Thomas Gillespie

Thomas Gillespie in the field

Thomas Gillespie

Ladder Faculty

Office: 1255 BUNCHE HALL


Phone: 51818


(Ph.D., UC Los Angeles, 1998) is a Professor with research interests in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing, and Biogeography. Professor Gillespie leads the EOS seminars and teaches classes in remote sensing and the geography of the tropics.


Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles, 1998 Department of Geography M.A. California State University, Chico, 1994 Department of Geography and Planning B.A. University of Colorado, Boulder, 1990 Department of International Affairs


My past research interests have focused on using geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing data for predicting patterns of species richness and rarity for plants and birds at a regional spatial scale.

Biodiversity Research
My botanical research will continue to focus on surveying tropical dry forests in biodiversity hotspots. I have collected floristic data from Wallacea, Sundaland, Indo-Burma, Mesoamerica, New Caledonia, and Caribbean hotspots and within four years, I will collect data from a number of other tropical dry forests in biodiversity hotspots. This research is field intensive and taxonomically challenging but provides comparative floristic and structural data for regions where relatively little information exists. This research will result in a number of publications on global conservation priorities, natural resource management, and tropical ecology and will be used as ground truth data for remote sensing studies of anthropogenic disturbance and estimates of forest biomass.

My faunal research has focused predominately on tropical bird communities, but I have published papers on mammal and herpetofauna diversity. My long-term research agenda for fauna will focus primarily on combining detailed natural history and field data with remote sensing data to model species distributions and probability of extinction in fragmented landscapes. Models of species distributions will also be examined for a number of environmental change scenarios to predict the future distribution of species.

Remote Sensing Research
My remote sensing research is divided into airborne and spaceborne sensors that can be used to measure and monitor terrestrial vegetation. My spaceborne sensor research focuses specifically on high-resolution data from Landsat and IKONOS satellites to test hypotheses on the utility of these sensors for predicting floristic composition and structure in fragmented landscapes and to develop new algorithms that predict the distribution and abundance of endangered species. Advances in geographic information systems and remote sensing techniques have resulted in a number of landscape metrics and indices that may be used to predict the distribution of species richness in habitat fragments. I am currently testing the utility and accuracy of landscape metrics and remote sensing indices for predicting patterns of woody plant species richness and rarity in tropical dry forests of south Florida and Oceania. In particular, I focus on testing the accuracy of landscape metrics within three fragmented systems: anthropogenic fragments, natural habitat fragments, and true islands. The long-term goal is to develop algorithms that predict the distribution of plants and endangered species in other tropical dry forest regions and California ecosystems.

Selected Publications

Fricker, G.A., Crampton, L.H., Gallerani, E.M., Hite, Inam, R. and Gillespie, T.W. 2021. Application of Lidar for critical endangered bird species conservation on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Ecosphere (In Press).  

Ocón, J.P, Ibanez, T., Franklin, J. Pau, S., Keppel, G., Rivas-Torres, G., Shin, M.E., and Gillespie, T.W. 2021. Global tropical dry forest extent and cover: A comparative study of bioclimatic definitions using two climatic data sets. PLoS ONE 16, e0252063.  

Rocchini, D., Salvatori, N., Beierkuhnlein, C., Chiarucci, A., de Boissieu, F., Förster, M., Garzon-Lopez, C.X., Gillespie, T.W., Hauffe, H.C., He, K.S. and Kleinschmit, B. 2021. From local spectral species to global spectral communities: A benchmark for ecosystem diversity estimate by remote sensing. Ecological Informatics 61, 101195. 

Muscarella, R., et al. 2020. The global abundance of tree palms. Global Ecology and Biogeography 29, 1495-1514. 

Owen, K., Melin, A., Campos, F., Fedigan, L., Gillespie, T.W. and Mennill, D. 2020. Bioacoustic analyses reveal that bird communities recover with forest succession in tropical dry forests. Avian Conservation and Ecology 15, 1. 

Dimson, M. and Gillespie, T.W. 2020. Trends in active restoration of tropical dry forest: Methods, metrics, and outcomes. Forest Ecology and Management 467, 118150. 

Dong, C., MacDonald, G., Okin, G.S. and Gillespie, T.W. 2019. Quantifying drought sensitivity of Mediterranean climate vegetation to recent warming: A case study in southern California. Remote Sensing 11, 2902. 

Gillespie, T.W., Keppel, G., Robinson, C.M, and Rivas-Torres, G. 2019. Dry forests of the Galápagos: A comparative assessment of a World Heritage Site. Pacific Conservation Biology 26, 161-172. 

Gillespie, T.W., Madson, A. Cusack, C.F., and Xue, Y. 2019. Changes in NDVI and population in protected areas on the Tibetan Plateau. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 51, 428-439.

Avolio, M., Pataki, D., Pincetl, S., Clarke, L., Cavender-Bares, J., Gillespie, T., Hobbie, S., Larson, K., McCarthy, H. and Trammell, T. 2019. Urban plant diversity in Los Angeles, California: Species and functional type turnover in cultivated landscapes. Plants, People, Planet 2, 144-156. 

Dimson, M., Lynch, S.C. and Gillespie, T.W. 2019. Using biased sampling data to model the distribution of invasive shot-hole borers in California. Biological Invasions 21, 1-20. 

Dong, C., MacDonald, G.M., Willis, K., Gillespie, T.W., Okin, G.S. and Williams, A.P., 2019. Vegetation responses to 20122016 drought in northern and southern California. Geophysical Research Letters 46, 3810-3821. 

Pincetl, S., Gillespie, T.W., Pataki, D.E., Porse, E., Jia, S., Kidera, E., Nobles, N., Rodriguez, J. and Choi, D.A. 2019. Evaluating the effects of turf-replacement programs in Los Angeles. Landscape and Urban Planning 185, 210-221. 


Grants & Awards

National Institute of Aging
‘Evolution of well-being among older adults after a disaster’ Co-Principal Investigator, Five years, $2,237,670

Environmental Protection Agency, STAR grant
‘Creating sustainable indicators to asses the physical, social, and economic values of greening cities: A study of the million tree initiative in Los Angeles, CA’
Co-Principal Investigator, Three years, $299,985

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ‘California Center for Population Research’ Co-Principal Investigator, Five years, $3,167,479

MacArthur Foundation ‘Enhancing Population-Based Surveys with Satellite Imagery and Geographic Information Systems’
Co-Investigator, $86,000

NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship
‘Estimating species richness and structure of Hawaiian Dry Forest using Terra ASTER’
Principal Investigator (Co-Principal Investigator, Pau) $45,920

National Science Foundation: Program of Human and Social Dynamics
‘Social, Economic, and Physical Effects of a Natural Disaster’
Co-Principal Investigator, Four years, $726,078

National Science Foundation: Geography and Regional Studies
‘Remote Sensing, Biogeography, and Conservation of Tropical Dry Forests
in Pacific Biodiversity Hotspots.’ Principal Investigator, Three years, $64,767