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Analysis of vegetation indices for assessing and monitoring vegetation cover in an arid environment in South Australia

Vegetation indices are widely used for assessing and monitoring ecological variables such as vegetation cover, above-ground biomass and leaf area index. This study reviewed and evaluated different groups of vegetation indices for estimating vegetation cover in southern rangelands in South Australia. Slope-based, distance-based, orthogonal transformation and plant-water sensitive vegetation indiceswere calculated from Landsat thematic mapper (TM) image data and compared with vegetation cover estimates at monitoring points made during Pastoral Lease assessments. Relationships between various vegetation indices and vegetation cover were compared using simple linear regression at two different scales: within two contrasting land systems and across broader regional landscapes. Of the vegetation indices evaluated, stress related vegetation indices using red, near-infrared and mid-infrared TM bands consistently showed significant relationships with vegetation cover at both land system and landscape scales. Estimation of vegetation cover was more accurate within land systems than across broader regions. Total perennial and ephemeral plant cover was best predicted within land systems, while combined vegetation, plant litter and soil cryptogam crust cover was best predicted at landscape scale. These results provide a strong foundation for use of vegetation indices as an adjunct to field methods for assessing vegetation cover in southern Australia.