Introduction: Photosynthesis converts sunlight into stored energy in millions of leaves, flowers and seeds that maintain the web of life in Yellowstone. This transformation of energy fixes carbon, supplies organic matter to soils, and can become fuel for wildfire. As the first link of the food chain, new plant biomass is called primary production and provides energy to consumers, including wildlife. While Yellowstone is a mountain environment with deep winter snowpack, the park can get very dry in some years as evidenced by massive wildfires in 1988 and 2016. Droughts like these not only contribute to fire potential, but they affect primary production, the food chain and likely will play an increasingly important role in transforming vegetation structure and composition in the future. Meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological drought have been assessed quantitatively for many years, but key indicators of drought in wildland ecosystems have not been formally defined until recently (Crausbay et al., 2017). One promising new method to do this is by measuring how vegetation responds to negative effects of drought, and positive effects of favorable conditions that offset negative effects of drought. The balance of drought stress and growth has important implications for future vegetation condition as the climate of Yellowstone changes.
Monitoring primary production, and predicting future vegetation changes are needed to provide a comprehensive view of park health and anticipate future ecosystem changes (Crabtree et al. 2009, Nemani et al. 2009). Although an important indicator of ecosystem condition, primary production can be time and resource-intensive to monitor in wildland settings using traditional ground-based methods such as clipping and weighing. Fortunately, ground-based methods can be complemented and enhanced by monitoring primary production with satellite imagery. Measurements of solar radiation reflectance in visible and near infra-red wavelengths can indicate primary production at frequent weekly intervals from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) on satellites operated by NASA. The Greater Yellowstone Inventory and Monitoring Network (GRYN) uses this information to track changes in primary production across Yellowstone over time. They link these measurements to vegetation types, soils, and climate to understand where and when changes in production have occurred and may occur in the future.