Detecting shrub recovery in sagebrush: Comparing Landsat with field data

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The need for basic information on spatial distribution and abundance of plant species for research and management in semiarid ecosystems is frequently unmet. This need is particularly acute in the large areas impacted by megafires in sagebrush steppe ecosystems, which require frequently updated information about increases in exotic annual invaders or recovery of desirable perennials. Remote sensing provides one avenue for obtaining this information. We considered how a vegetation model based on Landsat satellite imagery (30 m pixel resolution; annual images from 1985 to 2018) known as the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) “Back-in-Time” fractional component time-series, compared with field-based vegetation measurements. The comparisons focused on detection thresholds of post-fire emergence of fire-intolerant Artemisia L. species, primarily A. tridentata Nutt. (big sagebrush). Sagebrushes are scarce after fire and their paucity over vast burn areas creates challenges for detection by remote sensing. Measurements were made extensively across the Great Basin, USA, on eight burn scars encompassing ~500 000 ha with 80 plots sampled, and intensively on a single 113 000 ha burned area where we sampled 1454 plots.

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