Google Earth shows marine “landscape of fear” visible from space

In a major step for open access to scientific research, Nature Publishing Group’s free, peer-reviewed Creative-Commons-licensed online journal Scientific Reports has just launched, and its inaugural “edition” contains an article on marine predator-prey behaviour, Landscape of fear visible from space, that uses Google Earth imagery as a primary source of evidence:

A Google Earth image survey of the lagoon habitat at Heron Island within Australia’s Great Barrier Reef revealed distinct halo patterns within algal beds surrounding patch reefs. Ground truth surveys confirmed that, as predicted, algal canopy height increases with distance from reef edges. A grazing assay subsequently demonstrated that herbivore grazing was responsible for this pattern. In conjunction with recent behavioural ecology studies, these findings demonstrate that herbivores’ collective antipredator behavioural patterns can shape vegetation distributions on a scale clearly visible from space.

The accompanied imagery is a screen grab from this location is Google Earth/Maps:

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Animal-created habitat transformations visible from space! That is always cool. (For another recent example, see the world’s largest beaver dam in Canada.)

If you want an easy-to-read version of the results, both Monga Bay and Tree Hugger write up the article. Disappointingly, neither of these news sites manages a link to the original research report on which their story is based — thus missing the entire point of open-access scientific research.