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Multi-index time series monitoring of drought and fire effects on desert grasslands

October 4, 2016

The Western United States is expected to undergo both extended periods of drought and longer wildfire seasons under forecasted global climate change and it is important to understand how these disturbances will interact and affect recovery and composition of plant communities in the future. In this research paper we describe the temporal response of grassland communities to drought and fire in southern Arizona, where land managers are using repeated, prescribed fire as a habitat restoration tool. Using a 25-year atlas of fire locations, we paired sites with multiple fires to unburned control areas and compare satellite and field-based estimates of vegetation cover over time. Two hundred and fifty Landsat TM images, dating from 1985–2011, were used to derive estimates of Total Vegetation Fractional Cover (TVFC) of live and senescent grass using the Soil-Adjusted Total Vegetation Index (SATVI) and post-fire vegetation greenness using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). We also implemented a Greenness to Cover Index that is the difference of time-standardized SATVI-TVFC and NDVI values at a given time and location to identify post-fire shifts in native, non-native, and annual plant cover. The results highlight anomalous greening and browning during drought periods related to amounts of annual and non-native plant cover present. Results suggest that aggressive application of prescribed fire may encourage spread of non-native perennial grasses and annual plants, particularly during droughts.

Publication Year 2016
Title Multi-index time series monitoring of drought and fire effects on desert grasslands
DOI 10.1016/j.rse.2016.05.026
Authors Miguel L. Villarreal, Laura M. Norman, Steven Buckley, Cynthia S.A. Wallace, Michelle A. Coe
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Remote Sensing of Environment
Index ID 70176714
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center