Vegetation responses to sagebrush-reduction treatments measured by satellites

Ecological Indicators
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Abstract

Time series of vegetative indices derived from satellite imagery constitute tools to measure ecological effects of natural and management-induced disturbances to ecosystems. Over the past century, sagebrush-reduction treatments have been applied widely throughout western North America to increase herbaceous vegetation for livestock and wildlife. We used indices from satellite imagery to 1) quantify effects of prescribed-fire, herbicide, and mechanical treatments on vegetative cover, productivity, and phenology, and 2) describe how vegetation changed over time following these treatments. We hypothesized that treatments would increase herbaceous cover and accordingly shift phenologies towards those typical of grass-dominated systems. We expected prescribed burns would lead to the greatest and most-prolonged effects on vegetative cover and phenology, followed by herbicide and mechanical treatments. Treatments appeared to increase herbaceous cover and productivity, which coincided with signs of earlier senescence βˆ’ signals expected of grass-dominated systems, relative to sagebrush-dominated systems. Spatial heterogeneity for most phenometrics was lower in treated areas relative to controls, which suggested treatment-induced homogenization of vegetative communities. Phenometrics that explain spring migrations of ungulates mostly were unaffected by sagebrush treatments. Fire had the strongest effect on vegetative cover, and yielded the least evidence for sagebrush recovery. Overall, treatment effects were small relative to those reported from field-based studies for reasons most likely related to sagebrush recovery, treatment specification, and untreated patches within mosaicked treatment applications. Treatment effects were also small relative to inter-annual variation in phenology and productivity that was explained by temperature, snowpack, and growing-season precipitation. Our results indicated that cumulative NDVI, late-season phenometrics, and spatial heterogeneity of several phenometrics may serve as useful indicators of vegetative change in sagebrush ecosystems.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Vegetation responses to sagebrush-reduction treatments measured by satellites
Series title Ecological Indicators
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.12.033
Volume 87
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 66
Last page 76
Country United States
State Wyoming
Other Geospatial Upper Green River Valley