Despite the importance of dominant species to ecological communities and ecosystem functioning, there is much to learn about the causes and consequences of dominance, especially under changing environmental conditions and human impacts. Global change impacts on communities may be reflected in changing dominance before complete species’ losses, thus tracking dominance provides an early-warning sign of community change. Remote sensing is particularly well-suited to tracking changes in dominance over space and time, and to quantify associated changes in ecosystem functions and services. Identifying which species are dominant in different locations or at different time periods should help inform our understanding of the environmental conditions that confer ecological success, whether patterns and processes vary consistently across environmental gradients, and the consequences for the supply of ecosystem services.
Remote sensing provides continuous observations of the Earth’s surface at repeated intervals. In most optical applications, a few dominant species in an ecological community disproportionately contribute to the satellite spectral signature. In addition to detecting and mapping communities based on dominant species, remote sensing can help elucidate drivers of dominance by identifying how communities change along environmental gradients. Remote sensing can also help provide spatially explicit mapping of ecosystem service estimates. In this talk I will give examples of the ways remote sensing can contribute to our understanding of ecological dominance for quantifying ecosystem services. I will conclude by discussing current limitations of this approach and how future work should develop and test meaningful remote sensing measures of ecosystem services to effectively contribute to ecosystem service assessments.