Biodiversity is declining globally at unprecedented rates. Ecological niche models (ENMs) are one of the most widely used toolsets to appraise global change impacts on biodiversity. Here, we identify a variety of advantages of incorporating remotely sensed ecosystem functioning attributes (EFAs) into ENMs. The development of ENMs that explicitly incorporate ecosystem functioning will allow a more holistic and integrative perspective of the habitat dynamics. The synergies between the increasingly available open-access satellite images and cloud-based platforms for planetary-scale geospatial analysis offer an unprecedented opportunity to incorporate ecosystem processes and disturbances (such as fires, insect outbreaks or droughts) that have been so far largely neglected in ecological niche characterization and modelling. The most paradigmatic example of EFAs is the application of time series of spectral vegetation indices related to primary productivity and carbon cycle. EFAs related to surface energy balance and water cycles derived from remote sensing products such as land surface temperature or soil moisture enable a fine-scale characterization of the species’ niche—eventually improving the predictive performance of ENMs. All these advantages confirm that a new generation of ENMs based on such EFAs
would offer great perspectives to increase our ability to monitor habitat suitability trends and population dynamics. However, despite the technical advances and increasing effort of remote sensing community to develop integrative EFAs, ENMs have yet to make full profit of the most recent developments by integrating them in ENMs. A coordinated agenda for remote sensing experts and ecological modellers will be essential over the coming years to bridge the gap between remote sensing and ecology disciplines and to take full (and timely) advantage of the fast-growing body of Earth observation data and remote sensing technologies—with special emphasis on the development and testing of new variables related to key processes driving ecosystem functioning.