Rangeland biodiversity assessment using fine scale on-ground survey, time series of remotely sensed ground cover and climate data: an Australian savanna case study
Savanna rangelands are undergoing rapid environmental change and the need to monitor and manage landscape health is becoming increasingly an imperative of government agencies and research organizations. Remotely sensed ecological indicators of disturbance offer a potential approach, particularly in the context of issues of scale required to assess and monitor extensive rangeland areas. The objective of this research is to analyse the potential of spatially explicit ecological indicators of disturbance to explain the spatial variability in species diversity and abundance (including introduced flora species) in rangelands. For two mapped rangeland ecosystem types in northern Australia, regression analysis was used to explore the relationships between species diversity and abundance, and remotely sensed ground cover time series statistics, foliage projective cover, and a precipitation deficit index. It was assumed that the ecosystem types used had been mapped to represent uniform vegetation units and consequently predictors of environmental heterogeneity were not used in the regression analysis. It was found that the predictor variables performed well in explaining the variation in species diversity and abundance for the more open, homogenous and less topographically complex basalt ecosystem type and less effectively for the more structurally complex, more wooded and less disturbed metamorphic ecosystem type. The results indicate that, for mapped ecosystem types with low heterogeneity and topographic complexity, ground cover temporal mean and variance are potentially useful indicators of disturbance to species diversity and abundance, provided the local spatial variability in the climate signal is accounted for.