Grasslands cover up to 40% of the mountain areas globally and 23% of the European Alps and affect numerous key ecological processes. An increasing number of optical sensors offer a great opportunity to monitor and address dynamic changes in the growth and status of grassland vegetation due to climatic and anthropogenic influences. Vegetation indices (VI) calculated from optical sensor data are a powerful tool in analyzing vegetation dynamics. However, different sensors have their own characteristics, advantages, and challenges in monitoring vegetation over space and time that require special attention when compared to or combined with each other. We used the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from handheld spectrometers, station-based Spectral Reflectance Sensors (SRS), and Phenocams as well as the spaceborne Sentinel-2 Multispectral Instrument (MSI) for assessing growth and dynamic changes in four alpine meadows. We analyzed the similarity of the NDVI on diverse spatial scales and to what extent grassland dynamics of alpine meadows can be detected. We found that NDVI across all sensors traces the growing phases of the vegetation although we experienced a notable variability in NDVI signals among sensors and differences among the sites and plots. We noticed differences in signal saturation, sensor specific offsets, and in the detectability of short-term events. These NDVI inconsistencies depended on sensor-specific spatial and spectral resolutions and acquisition geometries, as well as on grassland management activities and vegetation growth during the year. We demonstrated that the combination of multiple-sensors enhanced the possibility for detecting short-term dynamic changes throughout the year for each of the stations. The presented findings are relevant for building and evaluating a combined sensor approach for consistent vegetation monitoring.
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