The savannas of Southern Africa are an important dryland ecosystem as they cover up to 54% of the landscape and support a rich variety of biodiversity. This paper evaluates landscape change in savanna vegetation along Chobe Riverfront within Chobe National Park Botswana, from 1982 to 2011 to understand what change may be occurring in land cover. Classifying land cover in savanna environments is challenging because the vegetation spectral signatures are similar across distinct vegetation covers. With vegetation species and even structural groups having similar signatures in multispectral imagery difficulties exist in making discrete classifications in such landscapes. To address this issue, a Random Forest classification algorithm was applied to predict land-cover classes. Additionally, time series vegetation indices were used to support the findings of the discrete land cover classification. Results indicate that a landscape level vegetation shift has occurred across the Chobe Riverfront, with results highlighting a shift in land cover towards more woody vegetation. This represents a degradation of vegetation cover within this savanna landscape environment, largely due to an increasing number of elephants and other herbivores utilizing the Riverfront. The forested area along roads at a further distance from the River has also had a loss of percent cover. The continuous analysis during 1982–2011, utilizing monthly AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) values, also verifies this change in amount of vegetation is a continuous and ongoing process in this region. This study provides land use planners and managers with a more reliable, efficient and relatively inexpensive tool for analyzing land-cover change across these highly sensitive regions, and highlights the usefulness of a Random Forest classification in conjunction with time series analysis for monitoring savanna landscapes.
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