Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Wildland Resources


R. Douglas Ramsey


This study tested the performance of classification, regression, and ordination techniques to evaluate the spatiotemporal dynamics of threats to big sagebrush ecological sites. The research was focused on invasion by annual exotic grasses and encroachment by woodlands. We sought to identify those areas that have had a persistent coverage of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) in big sagebrush ecological sites. We took advantage of the contrast in greenness between multi-temporal (within one year) remotely sensed vegetation indices captured in the spring and summer to find a distinct phenological signature that allowed mapping cheatgrass. We utilized support vector machines (SVM) to classify three temporal scenarios for which field data sets were available. SVM performed very well with accuracies of 70% (producer's) and 95% (user's) for the class of interest (presence of cheatgrass). This was the focus of chapter 2. In chapter 3 we report the development of vegetation continuous fields (VCF) for three years of interest 1996, 2001, and 2007 in order to detect active woodland encroachment. We prepared VCF for shrubs, trees, herbaceous vegetation, and bare ground using a suite of remotely sensed spectral reflectance, vegetation indices, and transformations. We compared the performance of multivariate regression trees (MRT) and random forests (RF) to develop the VCF multi-temporal series. RF outperformed MRT in both accuracy and ability to appropriately map the continuum of percent cover across large landscapes. We estimate that 17,570 hectares of big sagebrush lands showed encroachment by woodlands. Our goal in chapter 4 was to develop a similarity index for large rangeland landscapes. Trend assessments field sites and a long-term annual series (1984 - 2008) of remotely sensed imagery were used in conjunction with multidimensional scaling (MDS) to measure ecological distance to undesired states such as invasion by exotic annuals and encroachment by woodlands. In this chapter our units of analysis were soil-mapping units, which were predominantly composed of one ecological site (>60%). Our MDS results show that different ecological sites can be identified in the reduced MDS statistical space. The observed transitions and trajectories of mountain, Wyoming, and basin big sagebrush sites correlated well with the ecological expectation in semiarid lands. We anticipate that managers can use our protocols to update ecological site descriptions and state and transition models from a remotely sensed perspective.


This work made publicly available electronically on June 10, 2011.