The study’s objective was to quantify the responses of vegetation greenness and productivity to climate variability and change across complex topographic, climatic, and ecological gradients in Yellowstone National Park through the use of remotely sensed data. The climate change signal in Yellowstone was pronounced, including substantial warming, an abrupt decline in snowpack, and more frequent droughts. While phenological studies are increasing in Yellowstone, the near absence of long-term and continuous ground-based phenological measurements motivated the study’s application of remotely sensed data to aid in identifying ecological vulnerabilities and guide resource management in light of on ongoing environmental change. Correlation, time-series, and empirical orthogonal function analyses for 1982–2015 focused on Daymet data and vegetation indices (VIs) from the Advanced Very High-Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). The study’s key questions address unique time scales. First, what are the dominant meteorological drivers of variability in vegetation greenness on seasonal to interannual time scales? Key results include: (1) Green-up is the most elevation- and climate-sensitive phenological stage, with La Niña-induced cool, wet conditions or an anomalously deep snowpack delaying the green-up wave. (2) Drought measures were the dominant contributors towards phenological variability, as winter–spring drought corresponded to enhanced April–June greening and spring–summer drought corresponded to reduced August–September greening. Second, how have patterns of productivity changed in response to climate change and disturbances? Key results include: (1) The park predominantly exhibited positive productivity trends, associated with lodgepole pine re-establishment and growth following the 1988 fires. (2) Landscapes which were undisturbed by the 1988 fires showed no apparent sign of warming-induced greening. This study motivates a systematic investigation of remote-sensing data across western parks to identify ecological vulnerabilities and support the development of climate change vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies.
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