Shifts in the demographic and economic character of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) are driving patterns of land cover and land use change in the region. Such changes may have important consequences for ecosystem functioning. The objective of this paper is to quantify the trajectories and rates of change in land cover and use across the GYE for the period 1975-1995 using satellite imagery. Spectral and geographic variables were used as inputs to classification tree regression analysis (CART) to find "rules" which defined land use and land cover classes on the landscape. The resulting CART functions were used to map land cover and land use across seven Landsat TM scenes for 1995. We then used a thresholding technique to identify locations that differed in spectral properties between the 1995 and 1985 time periods. These "changed" locations were classified using CART functions derived from spectral and geographic data from 1985. This was similarly done for the year 1975 based on Landsat MSS data. Differences between the 1975, 1985, and 1995 maps were considered change in land cover and use. We calibrated and tested the accuracy of our models using data acquired through manual interpretation of aerial photos. Elevation and vegetative indices derived from the remotely sensed satellite imagery explained the most variance in the land use and land cover classes (-i.e., defined the "rules" most often). Overall accuracies from our study were good, ranging from 94% at the coarsest level of detail to 74% at the finest. The largest changes over the study period were the increases in burned, urban, and mixed conifer-herbaceous classes and decreases in woody deciduous, mixed woody deciduous-herbaceous, and conifer habitats. These changes have important implications for ecological function and biodiversity. The expansion of mixed conifer classes may increase fuel loads and enhance risk to the growing number of rural homes. The reduction of woody deciduous cover types is likely reducing population sizes for the numerous plant and animal species that specialize on this habitat type. Some of these species are also negatively influenced by the increase of rural homes in and near woody deciduous habitats.
Additional Publication Details
Land use and land cover change in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: 1975-1995