Changes in the grasslands of the Caucasus based on Cumulative Endmember Fractions from the full 1987–2019 Landsat record


Grasslands are important for global biodiversity, food security, and climate change analyses, which makes mapping and monitoring of vegetation changes in grasslands necessary to better understand, sustainably manage, and protect these ecosystems. However, grassland vegetation monitoring at spatial and temporal resolution relevant to land management (e.g., ca. 30-m, and at least annually over long time periods) is challenging due to complex spatio-temporal pattern of changes and often limited data availability. Here we assess both short- and long-term changes in grassland vegetation cover from 1987 to 2019 across the Caucasus ecoregion at 30-m resolution based on Cumulative Endmember Fractions (i.e., annual sums of monthly ground cover fractions) derived from the full Landsat record, and temporal segmentation with LandTrendr. Our approach combines the benefits of physically-based analyses, missing data prediction, annual aggregations, and adaptive identification of changes in the time-series. We analyzed changes in vegetation fraction cover to infer the location, timing, and magnitude of vegetation change episodes of any length, quantified shifts among all ground cover fractions (i.e., green vegetation, non-photosynthetic vegetation, soil, and shade), and identified change pathways (i.e., green vegetation loss, desiccation, dry vegetation loss, revegetation green fraction, greening, or revegetation dry fraction). We found widespread long-term positive changes in grassland vegetation (32.7% of grasslands), especially in the early 2000s, but negative changes pathways were most common before the year 2000. We found little association between changes in green vegetation and meteorological conditions, and varied relationships with livestock populations. However, we also found strong spatial heterogeneity in vegetation dynamics among neighboring fields and pastures, demonstrating capability of our approach for grassland management at local levels. Our results provide a detailed assessment of grassland vegetation change in the Caucasus Ecoregion, and present an approach to map changes in grasslands even where availability of Landsat data is limited.

Science of Remote Sensing
Patrick Hostert
Patrick Hostert
Principal Investigator