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Detecting microrefugia in semi-arid landscapes from remotely sensed vegetation dynamics

Andrew, M.E. and Warrener, H. (2017) Detecting microrefugia in semi-arid landscapes from remotely sensed vegetation dynamics. Remote Sensing of Environment, 200 . pp. 114-124.

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Microrefugia are sites with stable, high quality habitat within landscapes characterized by dynamic environmental conditions driven by climate variability or ecological disturbances. There is considerable interest in the potential of microrefugia to provide climate change resilience to landscapes and to biodiversity conservation. Although attractive conceptually, there is yet little guidance on how to identify climate change microrefugia in order to study and protect them, and the data required to do so are often lacking. This study demonstrates how time series remote sensing, using all available Landsat images of a study area, can be used to directly detect microrefugia maintained by water subsidies in a semi-arid landscape in southwest Western Australia. Microrefugia were identified as pixels with abundant vegetation and consistent vegetation dynamics between wet and dry years. At every pixel, a harmonic model was fit to the intra-annual time series of vegetation index values compiled from the wettest years in the Landsat-5 Thematic Mapper (TM) archive. This model was then used to predict the phenological cycle of the driest years at that pixel. Candidate microrefugia were defined to be those pixels with (1) high vegetation activity in dry years and (2) highly predictable phenologies that are consistent regardless of the weather conditions experienced in a given year. Spatial relationships between candidate microrefugia and landscape features associated with elevated moisture availability (thought to drive climate microrefugia in these semi-arid landscapes) were assessed. The candidate microrefugia show great promise. Evaluations against high-resolution imagery reveal that candidate microrefugia most likely buffer against drought, although refugia from other disturbances, especially fire, were also detected. In contrast, spatial proxies of the physical features expected to maintain microrefugia failed to adequately represent the distribution of microrefugia across the landscape, likely due to data quality and the heterogeneity of microrefugia. Direct detection of microrefugia with Earth observation data is a promising solution in data limited regions. Landsat time series analyses are well suited to this application as they can characterize both the habitat quality and stability aspects of microrefugia.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier Inc
Copyright: © 2017 Elsevier Inc
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