Biodiversity monitoring is crucial for ecosystem conservation, but ground data collection is limited by cost, time, and scale. Remote sensing is a convenient approach providing frequent, near-real-time information with fine resolution over wide areas. According to the Spectral Variation Hypothesis (SVH), spectral diversity (SD) is an effective proxy of environmental heterogeneity, which ultimately relates to plant diversity. So far, studies testing the relationship between SD and biodiversity have reported contradictory findings, calling for a thorough investigation of the key factors (i.e., metrics applied, habitat type, scale, and temporal effects) and conditions under which such a relationship exists. This study investigates the applicability of the SVH for monitoring plant diversity at the landscape scale by comparing the performance of three types of SD metrics. Species richness and functional diversity were calculated for >2000 grid cells of 5′ × 3′ covering the Czech Republic. Within each cell, we quantified SD using a Landsat-8 “greenest pixel” composite by applying (i) the standard deviation of NDVI, (ii) Rao's Q entropy index and (iii) the richness of “spectral communities”. Habitat type (i.e., land cover) was included in the models of the relationship between SD and ground biodiversity. Both species richness and functional diversity showed positive and significant relationships with each SD metric tested. However, SD alone accounted for a small fraction of the deviance explained by the models. Furthermore, the strength of the relationship depended significantly on habitat type and was highest in natural areas with transitional bushy and herbaceous vegetation. Our results underline that despite the stability of the significance of the relationship between SD and plant diversity at this scale, the applicability of SD for biodiversity monitoring is context-dependent and the factors mediating such a relationship must be carefully considered to avoid misleading conclusions.
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