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Monitoring the status of forests and rangelands in the Western United States using ecosystem performance anomalies

Rigge, Matthew, Wylie, Bruce, Gu, Yingxin, Belnap, Jayne, Phuyal, Khem, Tieszen, Larry
International journal of remote sensing 2013 v.34 no.11 pp. 4049-4068
biomass production, climate, ecosystems, fires, floods, forests, grazing, grazing intensity, growing season, insects, invasive species, land cover, land management, livestock, models, moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer, monitoring, plant communities, rangelands, regression analysis, soil, watersheds, Colorado River, Nebraska, Western United States
The effects of land management and disturbance on ecosystem performance (i.e. biomass production) are often confounded by those of weather and site potential. The current study overcomes this issue by calculating the difference between actual and expected ecosystem performance (EEP) to generate ecosystem performance anomalies (EPA). This study aims to delineate and quantify average EPA from 2000–2009 within the Greater Platte and Upper Colorado River Basins, USA. Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) images averaged over the growing season (GSN) served as a proxy of actual ecosystem performance. Yearly EEP was determined with rule-based piecewise regression tree models of abiotic data (climate, soils, elevation, etc.), independently created for each land cover. EPA were calculated as the residuals of the EEP to GSN relationship, and characterized as normal performing, underperforming, and overperforming at the 90% confidence level. Validation revealed that EPA values were related to biomass production (R² = 0.56, P = 0.02) and likely to the proportion of biomass removed by livestock in the Nebraska Sandhills. Overall, 60.6% of the study area was (normal) performing near its EEP, 3.0% was severely underperforming, 5.0% was highly overperforming, and the remainder was slightly underperforming or overperforming. Generally, disturbances such as fires, floods, and insect damage, in addition to high grazing intensity, result in a negative EPA. Conversely, mature stands and appropriate management often result in positive EPA values. This method provides information critical to land managers to evaluate the appropriateness of previous management practices and restoration efforts and quantify disturbance impacts. Results are at a scale sufficient for many of the large management units of the region and for locating areas needing further investigation. Applications of EPA data to monitoring invasive species, grazing impacts, and vulnerability to plant community shifts have been suggested by land management professionals.