The ecological integrity and biodiversity of steppes were destroyed under the long-term and high-intensity development of open-pit coal mines in China, causing desertification, steppe degradation, landscape function defect, and so on. As a source of species maintenance and dispersal, an ecological source is a key area for preservation in order to restore the ecological security pattern of the larger landscape. The purpose of this study was to establish a landscape key area recognition model to identify the landscape key areas (LKA) surrounding an open pit coalmine located in semi-arid steppe. This study takes the Yimin open pit mining area as a case study. We assessed Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) and Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) remote sensing images taken during the peak season of vegetation growth from July to August in 1999, 2006, 2011, and 2017. From these images, we identified the main landscape types and vegetation coverage grades in order to identify the ecological land. Next, we applied the three indices of Importance of Patch Connectivity, Habitat Quality, and Ecosystem Service Value to calculate the comprehensive results that identify ecological land. Finally, the ecological land quality results of different years are superimposed and averaged, and then Very Important Patch (VIMP), Important Patch (IMP), and General Patch (GEP) areas were used for LKA extraction. Our results showed LKA to cover 177.35 km2
, accounting for 20.01% of the total study area. The landscape types identified as LKA are primarily grassland (47.37%), wetland (40.27%), and shrubland (11.88%), indicating that landscape type correlates strongly with its value as a landscape key area. The proposed landscape key area recognition model could enrich the foundations for ecological planning and ecological security pattern construction in order to support ecological protection and restoration in semi-arid steppe areas affected by coal mining.
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