In the search for biosignatures on Mars, there is an abundance of data from orbiters and rovers to characterize global and regional habitability, but much less information is available at the scales and resolutions of microbial habitats and biosignatures. Understanding whether the distribution of terrestrial biosignatures is characterized by recognizable and predictable patterns could yield signposts to optimize search efforts for life on other terrestrial planets. We advance an adaptable framework that couples statistical ecology with deep learning to recognize and predict biosignature patterns at nested spatial scales in a polyextreme terrestrial environment. Drone flight imagery connected simulated HiRISE data to ground surveys, spectroscopy and biosignature mapping to reveal predictable distributions linked to environmental factors. Artificial intelligence–machine learning models successfully identified geologic features with high probabilities for containing biosignatures at spatial scales relevant to rover-based astrobiology exploration. Targeted approaches augmented by deep learning delivered 56.9–87.5% probabilities of biosignature detection versus <10% for random searches and reduced the physical search space by 85–97%. Libraries of biosignature distributions, detection probabilities, predictive models and search roadmaps for many terrestrial environments will standardize analogue science research, enabling agnostic comparisons at all scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-422
Number of pages17
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


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