Desert environments are sensitive to disturbances, and their functions and processes can take many years to recover. Detecting early signs of disturbance is critical, but developing such a capability for expansive remote desert regions is challenging. Using a variogram and 15-cm resolution Visible Atmospherically Resistant Index (VARI) imagery, we examined the usefulness of the spatial structure of desert lands for monitoring early signs of habitat changes using the Riverside East solar energy zone located within Riverside County, California. We tested the method on four habitat types in the region, Parkinsonia florida
, Chorizanthe rigida
, Larrea tridentata
, and Larrea tridentata
alliances. The results showed that the sill, range, form, and partial sill of the variogram generated from VARI strongly correlate with overall vegetation cover, average canopy size, canopy size variation, and spatial structure within a dryland habitat, respectively. Establishing a baseline of variogram parameters for each habitat and comparing to subsequent monitoring parameters would be most effective for detecting internal changes because values of variogram parameters would not match absolute values of landscape properties. When monitoring habitats across varying landscape characteristics, a single appropriate image resolution would likely be the resolution that could adequately characterize the habitat dominated by the smallest vegetation. For the variogram generated from VARI, which correlates to vegetation greenness, the sills may indicate the health of vegetation communities. However, further studies are warranted to determine the effectiveness of variograms for monitoring habitat health. Remotely sensed landscape structure obtained from variograms could provide complementary information to traditional methods for monitoring internal changes in dryland vegetation communities.
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