In the arid Mojave Desert, the phenological response of vegetation is largely dependent upon the timing and amount of rainfall, and maps of annual plant cover at any one point in time can vary widely. Our study developed relative annual plant growth models as proxies for annual plant cover using metrics that captured phenological variability in Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) satellite images. We used landscape phenologies revealed in MODIS data together with ecological knowledge of annual plant seasonality to develop a suite of metrics to describe annual growth on a yearly basis. Each of these metrics was applied to temporally-composited MODIS-EVI images to develop a relative model of annual growth. Each model was evaluated by testing how well it predicted field estimates of annual cover collected during 2003 and 2005 at the Mojave National Preserve. The best performing metric was the spring difference metric, which compared the average of three spring MODIS-EVI composites of a given year to that of 2002, a year of record drought. The spring difference metric showed correlations with annual plant cover of R2 = 0.61 for 2005 and R 2 = 0.47 for 2003. Although the correlation is moderate, we consider it supportive given the characteristics of the field data, which were collected for a different study in a localized area and are not ideal for calibration to MODIS pixels. A proxy for annual growth potential was developed from the spring difference metric of 2005 for use as an environmental data layer in desert tortoise habitat modeling. The application of the spring difference metric to other imagery years presents potential for other applications such as fuels, invasive species, and dust-emission monitoring in the Mojave Desert.
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An annual plant growth proxy in the Mojave Desert using MODIS-EVI data