Chemical signatures of the Peruvian tree canopy reveal previously unrecognized biodiversity
G. Asner/Carnegie Institution for Science
To some forest creatures, a tree is a home. To scientists, it’s a beacon. A new way of mapping forests from the air by measuring chemical signatures of the tree canopy is revealing previously unrecognized biodiversity.
The swath of tropical forest covering the Peruvian Andes Mountains and the Amazon basin is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. But it’s such a wild and remote region that variation within the forest is hard to spot.
“If you look in Google Earth, it just looks like a big green blanket,” says study coauthor Greg Asner, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.
Up close, it’s a different story. Each tree species has a distinctive set of chemical traits, such as levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in the leaves. Collectively, those characteristics can reveal a lot about the makeup of the forest.