Remote sensing has transformed the monitoring of life on Earth by revealing spatial and temporal dimensions of biological diversity through structural, compositional and functional measurements of ecosystems. Yet, many aspects of Earth’s biodiversity are not directly quantified by reflected or emitted photons. Inclusive integration of remote sensing with field-based ecology and evolution is needed to fully understand and preserve Earth’s biodiversity. In this Perspective, we argue that multiple data types are necessary for almost all draft targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity. We examine five key topics in biodiversity science that can be advanced by integrating remote sensing with in situ data collection from field sampling, experiments and laboratory studies to benefit conservation. Lowering the barriers for bringing these approaches together will require global-scale collaboration.