National Park Service

Sierra Nevada Network (SIEN)

Landscape Dynamics

Moro Rock at Sequoia & Kings Canyon
Moro Rock at Sequoia & Kings Canyon

Landscape Dynamics Monitoring Briefs

Landscape Dynamics Monitoring Reports

Landscape Dynamics Protocol Documents

NPScape - NPS Landscape Dynamics Monitoring Project

Background

Landscape dynamics include patterns and processes that occur at various spatial and temporal scales across Sierra Nevada parks and surrounding lands. Monitoring of landscape dynamics is usually done using remote-sensing (such as aerial photography or satellite imagery) and specialized expertise to analyze and interpret this imagery. The use of remote-sensing data to monitor landscape dynamics is desirable because

Fire is an important driver of landscape change in the Sierra Nevada. Fire in Sequoia National Park.
Fire is an important driver of landscape change in the Sierra Nevada. Fire in Sequoia National Park.
  1. Sierra Nevada Network (SIEN) parks are predominantly (>95%) designated Wilderness and three out of four of the parks are large, complex landscapes with difficult access issues for ground-based monitoring.
  2. Remote-sensing data provide an opportunity to detect changes in SIEN parks in relation to some of the primary threats affecting Sierra Nevada ecosystems.
  3. Remote-sensing data when used with other ground-based monitoring data (weather, vegetation, fire effects) and modeling can help establish relationships among major drivers and processes and landscape patterns and provide early warning of changes.

Remote sensing data are also relatively consistent across time and space, providing a means of objectively tracking and comparing spatial and temporal patterns.

National Park Service staff worked with Oregon State University scientists to develop a protocol to address the following vital signs: landscape mosaics, fire regimes, and fire effects on plant communities (Kennedy et al. 2010). SIEN and three other I&M networks were also involved in a project to apply remote-sensing and modeling technology and tools developed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists and additional university scientists to address NPS landscape monitoring needs. Of the various methods developed by NASA, SIEN is particularly interested in the potential to detect changes in vegetation phenology (timing of leaf-out) at landscape scales.

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Importance & Issues

Five systemic stressors pose the greatest threat to Sierra Nevada Network parks and landscapes:

  • Climate change (rapid, anthropogenic).
  • Altered fire regimes.
  • Non-native invasive species.
  • Air pollution.
  • Habitat fragmentation and human use.

Climate change is predicted to play an increasingly important role in California, posing a significant threat to the existence and persistence of native ecosystems and species (Brown 2005; Hayhoe et al. 2004).

Figure 1. Historic and recent photographs in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River watershed in Sequoia National Park. Large areas (circled) that were historically shrublands have converted to conifer forest, probably due to decreased fire frequency.
Figure 1. Historic and recent photographs in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River watershed in Sequoia National Park. Large areas (circled) that were historically shrublands have converted to conifer forest, probably due to decreased fire frequency.

Climate change and associated predicted changes in fire extent, severity, and occurrence are expected to be the primary drivers of landscape change in the Sierra Nevada in the foreseeable future. The altered fire regimes that have resulted from fire exclusion are currently considered one of the most important stressors on our natural systems. We know from historic photos and other research on vegetation change and fire history that, over the past 150 years, there have been significant changes in patterns of vegetation in the Sierra Nevada. Changes in these patterns can be readily observed in repeat photographs (Figure 1 ). Sierra Nevada research on vegetation change and fire history has demonstrated strong links between vegetation structure and composition, fire, and climate (visit the Fire Information Cache for more information on fire in the Sierra Nevada).

Air pollution (ozone, deposition of nutrients, pesticides from agricultural areas) threatens Sierra Nevada ecosystems. Research suggests chronic ozone pollution can lead to shifts in forest structure and com­position (Miller 1973) . Injury to trees from ozone has been well-documented in remote pine forests of southern California (Arbaugh et al. 1998; Bytnerowicz et al. 2002) and the Sierra Nevada (Duriscoe 1987).

Large portions of the three large Sierra Nevada parks (Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite) are buffered to some extent from the effects of habitat fragmentation and land-use change that occur in the Central Valley of California to the west of the parks, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and on Sierra Nevada national forest lands. Nonetheless, edges of parks bordering these lands, as well as areas/corridors extending into parks, are affected by non-native species invasions, effects of urbanization, agriculture, and deforestation. Land-use changes can reduce wildlife habitat outside parks and connections among habitats.

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Monitoring Objectives & Approach

Figure 2. Spectral signals of apparent decreasing brightness, and likely vegetation densification or encroachment, at the upper margins of shrub and vegetation in Yosemite National Park and on Mammoth Peak. Fitted trajectories of decreasing brightness for two pixels (a and b); aerial photos, with purple color indicating all pixels of decreasing brightness (c and d); and ground photos (e and f). From Kennedy et al. (2010).
Figure 2. Spectral signals of apparent decreasing brightness, and likely vegetation densification or encroachment, at the upper margins of shrub and vegetation in Yosemite National Park and on Mammoth Peak. Fitted trajectories of decreasing brightness for two pixels (a and b); aerial photos, with purple color indicating all pixels of decreasing brightness (c and d); and ground photos (e and f). From Kennedy et al. (2010).

A draft monitoring protocol was completed by Oregon State University scientists in 2010 (Kennedy et al. 2010). This protocol uses Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery and a series of image processing and interpretation steps to address the following objectives:

  1. Determine temporal and spatial changes in landscape mosaics across SIEN parks every 5–10 years (time frame dependent upon pace of change and available funds). Landscape mosaics may include:
    • Vegetation type and cover.
    • Other land cover types such as streams and lakes, bare ground, rock, roads, and developed areas.
  2. Determine fire regime characteristics across SIEN parks on an annual basis, and monitor trends through time in selected characteristics. These may include fire size, fire severity, fire frequency, and fire season.
  3. Monitor changes in vegetation response to fire over variable time frames (1 to many years) post-fire and among different types of fire regime characteristics (low to high severity, different seasons, different frequencies).
  4. Detect spatial and temporal changes in vegetation condition (or health) across SIEN parks – which may indicate change from other agents of change such as insects, pathogens, air pollutants, and drought.
  5. Monitor changes in phenological events (leafout, leaf senescence, and vegetation growth) in broad vegetation zones across SIEN parks.

An additional SIEN monitoring objective may be addressed through a NASA/NPS collaborative project (Melton et al. 2010): Monitor changes in phenological events (leafout, leaf senescence, and vegetation growth) in broad vegetation zones across SIEN parks.

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Management Applications

There are three primary justifications for wanting to monitor landscape dynamics. One is to document when and where individual change events and processes occur on the landscape. This provides managers a means of preparing scientifically informed responses to environmental change. Second, by evaluating longer-term and park-wide patterns in these changes, managers and scientists can begin determining trends in key indicators of landscape condition, and further inform management responses to change. Finally, these status and trend data can be used to build models of potential future landscape mosaic patterns. This will allow managers to better prepare for and then manage for ecosystem changes that are likely to affect processes, systems, and individual species. Understanding landscape dynamics requires a basic understanding of the drivers and functions of those landscapes. Following are some specific benefits expected from monitoring landscape dynamics:

  • Short-term benefits include accurately documenting changes to vegetation that are caused by fire, insects and pathogens inside the park, as well as changes to vegetation and land cover outside of park within greater ecosystem.
  • Landscape monitoring will assist SIEN parks in updating land cover/vegetation maps and in documenting long-term changes to the health and extent of vegetation types.
  • Using tested methods of image analysis, we can identify areas where change is occurring and prioritize potential field work to further attribute and document changes.
  • Long-term benefits include allowing us to take a broad spatial scale and longer-term temporal scale look at how our landscape is changing. Knowing direction and rate of change will assist in identifying potential management actions.
  • We can monitor changes in land use and forest/habitat fragmentation outside the parks that may affect species in the parks.
  • The protocols will augment current remotely sensed and field data to determine how the spatial distribution and severity of fires are affecting vegetation structure, composition, and recovery.
  • Phenology: NASA products will help us to monitor if and how much vegetation phenology is changing. This will help to document potential responses to changing climate.
  • Computer displays or printed maps could be used in Visitor Centers and park websites to highlight remote sensing products and conclusions about changes and potential causes for the changes observed.

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References Cited

  • Arbaugh, M.J., Miller, P.R., Carroll, J.J., & al. 1998. Relationships of ozone exposure to pine injury in the Sierra Nevada and San Bernadino Mountains of California, USA. Environmental Pollution 101: 291–301.
  • Brown, S. 2005 . Global climate change and California . California Energy Commission Staff Final Paper in Support of the 2005 Integrated Energy Policy Report. CEC-600-2005-007-SF.
  • Bytnerowicz, A., Bodzik, B., Grodzinska, K., Krywult, M., Fraczek, A., Tausz, M., Alonso, R., Jones, D., Johnson, R., & Grulke, N. (2002). Summer-time distribution of air pollutants in Sequoia National Park, California. Environmental Pollution, 118, 187–203.
  • Duriscoe, D.M. 1987. Evaluation of ozone injury to selected tree species in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 1985 survey results, Air Quality Division National Park Service, Denver Colorado.
  • Hayhoe, K. D. C., C.B. Field, P.C. Frumhoff et. al. 2004. Emissions pathways, climate change, and impacts on California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences101(34): 12422–12427.
  • Kennedy, R., A. Kirschbaum, U. Gafvert, P. Nelson, Z. Yang, W. Cohen, E. Pfaff, and B. Gholson. 2010b. Landsat-based monitoring of landscape dynamics in the national parks of the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network (Version 1.0). Natural Resource Report NPS/GLKN/NRR—2010/221. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Kennedy, R.E., W.B. Cohen, A.A. Kirschbaum, and E. Haunreiter. 2007. Protocol for Landsat-based monitoring of landscape dynamics at North Coast and Cascades Network Parks: U.S. Geological survey Techniques and Methods 2-G1, 126 p.
  • Melton, F., S. Hiatt, G. Zhang, R. Nemani. 2010. PALMS SOP - Estimating Landscape Indicators of Phenology from Satellite Observations: Start of Season. Ecological Forecasting Lab, NASA Ames Research Center, California.
  • Miller, P.R. 1973. Oxidant-induced community change in a mixed-conifer forest. In J.A. Naegele (Ed.), Air pollution damage to vegetation (pp. 101–117). Washington, D.C.
  • SNEP. 1996. Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project: Final report to Congress . Summary. University of California, Davis, California. Accessed 4 April 2009.
  • Piekielek, N.B., C. Davis and A. Hansen. 2010a. PALMS Standard Operating Procedure – Estimating Protected-area Centered Ecosystems. Inventory and Monitoring Program, Natural Resource Program Center, National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.
  • Piekielek, N.B., C. Davis and A. Hansen 2010b. PALMS Standard Operating Procedure – Analyzing Protected-area Centered Ecosystems. Inventory and Monitoring Program, Natural Resource Program Center, National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.
  • Piekielek, N.B., C. Davis and A. Hansen 2010c. PALMS Standard Operating Procedure – Ecosystem type change and fragmentation: from pre Euro-American settlement to present day. Inventory and Monitoring Program, Natural Resource Program Center, National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.

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