Analysis of desert plant community growth patterns with high temporal resolution satellite spectra.

Published online
30 Jun 1997
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Peters, A. J. & Eve, M. D. & Holt, E. H. & Whitford, W. G.

Publication language
USA & New Mexico


The study of a desert landscape consisting of C3 shrublands and C4 grasslands demonstrated the feasibility of mapping desertification processes on a regional scale using time-series satellite images, and demonstrated the potential for monitoring desertification processes through time. Fifteen meteorological satellite images of southern New Mexico, spread over the growing season of 1989, were processed to yield images of normalized difference vegetation indices. Computer classification of these images and comparison with extensive ground measurements confirmed the identification of the major classes of shrubland, grassland and mixed shrub and grass areas. The high-resolution temporal approach is shown to permit the accurate identification of vegetation types even under conditions of sparse vegetation cover. The phenologies of grassland and shrubland were revealed in the time series of satellite images. This feature of the data was used to overcome the tendency of the strong radiation signal from bare soil to mask the biomass signal. Comprehensive comparisons with ground measurements confirmed the accuracy of the biomass identification for local areas within the Jornada Experimental Range, and justified extrapolation of the classification to a larger adjacent area.

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