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Monitoring long-term riparian vegetation trends to inform local habitat management in a mountainous environment

May 17, 2021

Riparian ecosystems provide critical habitat for many species, yet assessment of vegetation condition at local scales is difficult to measure when considering large areas over long time periods. We present a framework to map and monitor two deciduous cover types, upland and riparian, occupying a small fraction of an expansive, mountainous landscape in north-central Wyoming. Initially, we developed broad-scale predictions of predominant woody vegetation types by integrating Landsat data into species distribution models and combining subsequent outputs into a synthesis map. Then, we evaluated a 35-year Landsat time series (1985–2019) using the Mann-Kendall test to identify significant trends in the condition of upland and riparian deciduous vegetation and assessed the rate and direction of change using the Theil-Sen estimator. Finally, we used plot level data to assess the utility of the framework to detect bottom-up controls (ungulate browse pressure and management actions) on vegetation condition. The synthesis map had an overall correct classification rate of 87% and field data indicated deciduous vegetation within 45 m of coniferous forest faces increased pressure of conifer expansion. The trend assessment identified consistent patterns operating at the landscape scale across both upland and riparian deciduous vegetation; a predominant greening trend was observed for 12 years followed by a 9-year browning trend, before switching back to a greening trend for the last 13 years of the study. Our results indicate trends are driven by the climate of the measurement period at the landscape scale. Although we did not find conclusive evidence to establish a strong link between browse pressure and satellite data, we highlight examples where prevailing trends can be overridden by local disturbance or management intervention. This framework is transferable to other understudied riparian environments throughout western North America to provide insight on ecohydrological processes and assess global and local stressors across broad spatiotemporal scales.

Publication Year 2021
Title Monitoring long-term riparian vegetation trends to inform local habitat management in a mountainous environment
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolind.2021.107807
Authors Timothy J. Assal, Valerie A. Steen, Todd Caltrider, Travis Cundy, Cheyenne Stewart, Nicholas Manning, Patrick J. Anderson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Indicators
Index ID 70220514
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center