As China’s largest freshwater lake and an important wintering ground for white cranes in Asia, the Poyang Lake wetland has unique ecological value. However, wetland cover types have changed dynamically and have attracted the attention of society and researchers over the past few decades. To obtain detailed knowledge and understanding of the long-term landcover dynamics of Poyang Lake and the associated driving forces, Landsat and HJ-1A/B images (31 images) were used to acquire classification and frequency maps of Poyang Lake in the dry season from 1973–2019 based on the random forest (RF) algorithm. In addition, the driving forces were discussed according to the Geodetector model. The results showed that the coverage of water and mudflat showed opposite trends from 1987–2019. Water and vegetation exhibited a significant decreasing trend from 1981–2003 and from 1996–2004 (p
< 0.01), respectively. A phenomenon of vegetation expanding from west to east was found, and the expansion areas were mainly concentrated in the central zone of Poyang Lake, while vegetation in the northern mountainous area of Songmen (region 1) and eastern Songmen Mountain (region 2), showed a significantly expanded trend (R2
> 0.6, p
< 0.01) during the five-decade period. The year-long dominant distribution of water occurred mainly in the two deltas formed by the Raohe and Tongjin rivers and the Fuhe and Xinjiang rivers, with deep water. In the 1973–2003 and 2003–2019 periods, a total of 313.522 km2
of water turned into swamp and mudflat and 478.453 km2
of swamp and mudflat transitioned into vegetation, respectively. Elevation and temperature appeared to be the main factors affecting the regional wetland evolution in the dry season and should be considered in the management of Poyang Lake. The findings of this work provide detailed information for spatial–temporal landcover changes of Poyang Lake, which could help policymakers to formulate scientific and appropriate policies and achieve restoration of the Poyang Lake wetland.
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