A Spatio-Temporal Analysis of Landscape Change within the Eastern Terai, India : Linking Grassland and Forest Loss to Change in River Course and Land Use
Land degradation is one of the most important drivers of landscape change around the globe. This dissertation examines land use-land cover change within a mosaic landscape in Eastern Terai, India, and shows evidence of anthropogenic factors contributing to landscape change. Land use and land cover change were examined within the Alipurduar Subdivision, a representative of the Eastern Terai landscape and the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area nested within Alipurduar through the use of multi-temporal satellite data over the past 28 years (1978 - 2006). This study establishes the potential of remote sensing technology to identify the drivers of landscape change; it provides an assessment of how regional drivers of landscape change influence the change within smaller local study extents and provides a methodology to map different types of grassland and monitor their loss within the region. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and a Normalized Difference Dry Index (NDDI) were found instrumental in change detection and the classification of different grasslands found inside the park based on their location, structure, and composition. Successful spectral segregation of different types of grasslands and their direct association with different grassland specialist species (e.g., hispid hare, hog deer, Bengal florican) clearly showed the potential of remote sensing technology to efficiently monitor these grasslands and assist in species conservation. Temporal analysis provided evidence of the loss of dense forest and grasslands within both study areas with a considerably higher rate of loss outside the protected area than inside. Results show a decline of forest from 40% in 1978 to 25% in 2006 across Alipurduar. Future trends project forest cover and grassland within Alipurduar to reduce to 15% and 5%, respectively. Within the Alipurduar, deforestation due to growth of tea industry was the primary driver of change. Flooding changed the landscape, but more intensely inside the wildlife preserve. Change of the river course inside Jaldapara during the flood of 1968 significantly altered the distribution of grassland inside the park. Unless, the direction of landscape change is altered, future trends predict growth of the tea industry within the region, increased forest loss, and homogenization of the landscape.