Assessing the health of rangeland ecosystems based solely on annual biomass production does not fully describe plant community condition; the phenology of production can provide inferences on species composition, successional stage, and grazing impacts. We evaluate the productivity and phenology of western South Dakota mixed-grass prairie using 2000 to 2008 Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) satellite imagery at 250 m spatial resolution. Growing season NDVI images were integrated weekly to produce time-integrated NDVI (TIN), a proxy of total annual biomass production, and integrated seasonally to represent annual production by cool (C3) and warm (C4) season species. Additionally, a variety of phenological indicators including cool season percentage of TIN were derived from the seasonal profiles of NDVI. Cool season percentage and TIN were combined to generate vegetation classes, which served as proxies of plant community condition. TIN decreased with precipitation from east to west across the study area. Alternatively, cool season percentage increased from east to west, following patterns related to the reliability (interannual coefficient of variation [CV]) and quantity of mid-summer precipitation. Cool season TIN averaged 76.8% of total. Seasonal accumulation of TIN corresponded closely (R2 > 0.90) to that of gross photosynthesis data from a carbon flux tower. Field-collected biomass and community composition data were strongly related to the TIN and cool season percentage products. The patterns of vegetation classes were responsive to topographic, edaphic, and land management influences on plant communities. Accurate maps of biomass production, cool/warm season composition, and vegetation classes can improve the efficiency of land management by adjusting stocking rates and season of use to maximize rangeland productivity and achieve conservation objectives. Further, our results clarify the spatial and temporal dynamics of phenology and TIN in mixed-grass prairie.
Additional publication details
Linking phenology and biomass productivity in South Dakota mixed-grass prairie
Rangeland Ecology and Management
Society for Range Management
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center