Phenology of plants is important for ecological interactions. The timing and development of green leaves, plant maturity, and senescence affects biophysical interactions of plants with the environment. In this study we explored the agreement between land-based camera and satellite-based phenology metrics to quantify plant phenology and phenophases dates in five plant community types characteristic of the semi-arid cold desert region of the Great Basin. Three years of data were analyzed. We calculated the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for both land-based cameras (i.e., phenocams) and Landsat imagery. NDVI from camera images was calculated by taking a standard RGB (red, green, and blue) image and then a near infrared (NIR) plus RGB image. Phenocam NDVI was calculated by extracting the red digital number (DN) and the NIR DN from images taken a few seconds apart. Landsat has a spatial resolution of 30 m2
, while phenocam spatial resolution can be analyzed at the single pixel level at the scale of cm2
or area averaged regions can be analyzed with scales up to 1 km2
. For this study, phenocam regions of interest were used that approximated the scale of at least one Landsat pixel. In the tall-statured pinyon and juniper woodland sites, there was a lack of agreement in NDVI between phenocam and Landsat NDVI, even after using National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery to account for fractional coverage of pinyon and juniper versus interspace in the phenocam data. Landsat NDVI appeared to be dominated by the signal from the interspace and was insensitive to subtle changes in the pinyon and juniper tree canopy. However, for short-statured sagebrush shrub and meadow communities, there was good agreement between the phenocam and Landsat NDVI as reflected in high Pearson’s correlation coefficients (r
> 0.75). Due to greater temporal resolution of the phenocams with images taken daily, versus the 16-day return interval of Landsat, phenocam data provided more utility in determining important phenophase dates: start of season, peak of season, and end of season. More specific species-level information can be obtained with the high temporal resolution of phenocams, but only for a limited number of sites, while Landsat can provide the multi-decadal history and spatial coverage that is unmatched by other platforms. The agreement between Landsat and phenocam NDVI for short-statured plant communities of the Great Basin, shows promise for monitoring landscape and regional-level plant phenology across large areas and time periods, with phenocams providing a more comprehensive understanding of plant phenology at finer spatial scales, and Landsat extending the historical record of observations.
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