Tropical forest ecosystems are undergoing rapid transformation as a result of changing environmental conditions and direct human impacts. However, we cannot adequately understand, monitor or simulate tropical ecosystem responses to environmental changes without capturing the high diversity of plant functional characteristics in the species-rich tropics. Failure to do so can oversimplify our understanding of ecosystems responses to environmental disturbances. Innovative methods and data products are needed to track changes in functional trait composition in tropical forest ecosystems through time and space. This study aims to track key functional traits by coupling Sentinel-2 derived variables with a unique data set of precisely located in-situ measurements of canopy functional traits collected from 2434 individual trees across the tropics using a standardised methodology. The functional traits and vegetation censuses were collected from 47 field plots in the countries of Australia, Brazil, Peru, Gabon, Ghana, and Malaysia, which span the four tropical continents. The spatial positions of individual trees above 10 cm diameter at breast height (DBH) were mapped and their canopy size and shape recorded. Using geo-located tree canopy size and shape data, community-level trait values were estimated at the same spatial resolution as Sentinel-2 imagery (i.e. 10 m pixels). We then used Random Forest to model and predict functional traits across the tropical forests at a pantropical extent. We demonstrate that key plant functional traits can be predicted across the tropicsusing the high spatial and spectral resolution of Sentinel-2 imagery in conjunction with climatic and soil information. Image textural parameters were found to be key components of remote sensing information for predicting functional traits across tropical forests and woody savannas. Our approach offers new opportunities for mapping, monitoring and understanding biodiversity and ecosystem change in the most species-rich ecosystems on Earth.
Tropical forest, traits, ecosystem functions, remote sensing, satellite, sentinel-2