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Assessing plant production responses to climate across water-limited regions using Google Earth Engine

October 21, 2019

(Munson) Climate variability and change acting at broad scales can lead to divergent changes in plant production at local scales. Quantifying how production responds to variation in climate at local scales is essential to understand underlying ecological processes and inform land management decision-making, but has historically been limited in spatiotemporal scale based on the use of discrete ground-based measurements or coarse resolution satellite observations. With the advent of cloud-based computing through Google Earth Engine (GEE), production responses to climate can be evaluated across broad landscapes though time at a resolution useful for ecological and land management applications. Here, GEE was employed to synthesize a multi-platform Landsat time series (1988 – 2014) and evaluate relationships between the soil-adjusted vegetation index (a proxy for plant production) and climate across deserts and plant communities of the southwestern U.S. A “climate pivot point” approach was adopted in GEE to assess the trade-off between production responses to increasing wetness and resistances to drought at 30-m resolution. Consistent with a long-term seasonal climate gradient, production was most related to climate variance during the cool-season in the western deserts, during the warm-season in the eastern deserts, and equally related to both seasons within several desert areas. Communities dominated by grasses and deciduous trees displayed large production responses to an increase in wetness and low resistances to water deficit, while shrublands and evergreen woodlands had variable responses and high drought resistances. Production in plant communities that spanned multiple deserts responded differently to seasonal climate variability in each desert. Defining these plant production sensitivities to climate at 30-m resolution in GEE advances forecasts of how long-term climate trajectories may affect carbon storage, wildlife habitat, and the vulnerability of water-limited ecosystems.

Publication Year 2019
Title Assessing plant production responses to climate across water-limited regions using Google Earth Engine
DOI 10.1016/j.rse.2019.111379
Authors Erin L. Bunting, Seth M. Munson, John B. Bradford
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Remote Sensing of Environment
Index ID 70206089
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center