Cyclonic windstorms profoundly affect forest structure and function throughout the tropics and subtropics. Remote sensing techniques and vegetation indices (VIs) have improved our ability to characterize cyclone impacts over broad spatial scales. Although VIs are useful for understanding changes in forest cover, their consistency on detecting changes in vegetation cover is not well understood. A better understanding of the similarities and differences in commonly used VIs across disturbance events and forest types is needed to reconcile the results from different studies. Using Landsat imagery, we analyzed the change between pre- and post-typhoon VI values (ΔVIs) of four VIs for five typhoons (local name of cyclones in the North Pacific) that affected the Fushan Experimental Forest of Taiwan. We found that typhoons varied in their effect on forest canopy cover even when they had comparable trajectories, wind speeds, and rainfall. Most VIs measured a decrease in forest cover following typhoons, ranging from −1.18% to −19.87%; however, the direction of ΔVI–topography relationships varied among events. All typhoons significantly increased vegetation heterogeneity, and ΔVI was negatively related to pre-typhoon VI across all typhoons. Four of the five typhoons showed that more frequently affected sites had greater VI decreases. VIs ranged in their sensitivity to detect typhoon-induced changes in canopy coverage, and no single VI was most sensitive across all typhoons. Therefore, we recommend using VIs in combination—for example Normalized Difference Infrared Index (NDII) and Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), when comparing cyclone-disturbance-induced changes in vegetation cover among disturbances and across forests.
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