Research characterizing broad scale variability in vegetation carbon stocks (biomass) and habitat diversity using remote sensing has exploded in recent years. Breakthroughs have been made on both fronts, with maps of changes in forest canopy cover and carbon stocks being broadly disseminated and widely utilized. Related maps of 3D canopy structure have also become more widely available to the biodiversity science and habitat management communities, albeit mostly from aircraft data acquisitions. Concurrently, recent efforts have begun to incorporate the impact of animals on vegetation structure in simulation models, such as the Ecosystem Demography and Madingley models, which help to understand and quantify the mechanistic relationships between remotely sensed and ground based data. These advances are important in the context of increasing pressures on both habitat and wildlife, and in their general applicability to research as well as conservation and management in international biodiversity initiatives, including the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). All of these efforts require Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs), including structure metrics, being developed under the Group on Earth Observations - Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO-BON), as endorsed by the CBD.
In the near future a suite of satellite missions, including L-band radar (NISAR), P-band radar (BIOMASS), a photon counting lidar (ICESat-2) and a full-waveform lidar (GEDI) will provide an unprecedented level of novel remote sensing measurements useful for deriving 3D structure information. These will be augmented by hyperspectral missions, which provide information on suites of canopy traits and associated biochemistry. We will provide a brief overview of the potential of these new space-based measurements for rapidly advancing research and applications of 3D structure, particularly mapping and monitoring vegetation carbon stock and animal habitat utilization, and the implications for biodiversity research and conservation. We will also present some mechanistic model simulations demonstrating how animals impact vegetation structure and carbon stocks, and comparisons of these outcomes with remotely sensed and ground based data. We will emphasize the particular utility of GEDI (the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation), a lidar mission to be installed on the International Space Station in early 2018 that is optimized for retrieving 3D canopy structure. GEDI and the other new missions will provide long-desired consistent and systematic information on EBVs from space, and thereby facilitate the implementation of international biodiversity policy objectives.