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An Untidy Cover: Invasion of Bracken Fern in the Shifting Cultivation Systems of Southern Yucatán, Mexico

Schneider, Laura C., Fernando, D. Nelun
Biotropica 2010 v.42 no.1 pp. 41-48
Pteridium aquilinum, dry season, ecological invasion, farmers, forest fires, humans, land cover, models, remote sensing, seasonal variation, shifting cultivation, spatial variation, topography, vegetation types, Mexico
In land change science studies, a cover type is defined by land surface attributes, specifically including the types of vegetation, topography and human structures, which makes it difficult to characterize land cover as discrete classes. One of the challenges in characterizing a land-cover type is to distinguish variability within the class from actual land-cover transformation. The spread of plant invasions in tropical systems is affected by seasonal variations and disturbances such as agricultural activities and fires, making it difficult to determine the spread through thematic classifications. In this paper, we estimate the changes in spatial extent and seasonal variation of bracken fern invasion in Southern Yucatán from 1989 to 2005 by using a linear mixture model (LMM), a widely used method in the classification of remotely sensed data. The results show an increase in areas affected by bracken from 40 km² in 1989 to almost 80 km² in 2000. Lower estimates of the invasion resulted from data acquired at the end of the dry season (March-May), when bracken mixes with secondary vegetation or is removed by fires. The accuracy of the maps is estimated through the use of sketch maps of farmer's parcels and field data collected from 2000 to 2001. Understanding the spatial distribution and annual variability of bracken fern cover in the region is critical to determining the relation between disturbances such as fire and forest recovery. Using LMM may enhance this understanding by giving a more accurate picture of the extent and distribution of bracken fern invasion.