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Remote Sens. 2014, 6(7), 6709-6726; doi:10.3390/rs6076709

Predictive Mapping of Dwarf Shrub Vegetation in an Arid High Mountain Ecosystem Using Remote Sensing and Random Forests

1
Institute of Geography, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Wetterkreuz 15, D-91058 Erlangen, Germany
2
Department of Geography, University of Bayreuth, Universitätsstr. 30, D-95440 Bayreuth, Germany
3
BayCEER, University of Bayreuth, D-95440 Bayreuth, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 28 April 2014 / Revised: 4 July 2014 / Accepted: 9 July 2014 / Published: 22 July 2014
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Abstract

In many arid mountains, dwarf shrubs represent the most important fodder and firewood resources; therefore, they are intensely used. For the Eastern Pamirs (Tajikistan), they are assumed to be overused. However, empirical evidence on this issue is lacking. We aim to provide a method capable of mapping vegetation in this mountain desert. We used random forest models based on remote sensing data (RapidEye, ASTER GDEM) and 359 plots to predictively map total vegetative cover and the distribution of the most important firewood plants, K. ceratoides and A. leucotricha. These species were mapped as present in 33.8% of the study area (accuracy 90.6%). The total cover of the dwarf shrub communities ranged from 0.5% to 51% (per pixel). Areas with very low cover were limited to the vicinity of roads and settlements. The model could explain 80.2% of the total variance. The most important predictor across the models was MSAVI2 (a spectral vegetation index particularly invented for low-cover areas). We conclude that the combination of statistical models and remote sensing data worked well to map vegetation in an arid mountainous environment. With this approach, we were able to provide tangible data on dwarf shrub resources in the Eastern Pamirs and to relativize previous reports about their extensive depletion. View Full-Text
Keywords: Central Asia; common pool resources; degradation; desertification; firewood; modeling; Pamir; post-Soviet transformation; rangeland ecology; Tajikistan Central Asia; common pool resources; degradation; desertification; firewood; modeling; Pamir; post-Soviet transformation; rangeland ecology; Tajikistan
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Vanselow, K.A.; Samimi, C. Predictive Mapping of Dwarf Shrub Vegetation in an Arid High Mountain Ecosystem Using Remote Sensing and Random Forests. Remote Sens. 2014, 6, 6709-6726.

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