Canadian Forest Service Publications

Evidence of vegetation greening at alpine treelines: Three decades of Landsat spectral trends informed by lidar-derived vertical structure. 2018. Bolton, D.K., Coops, N.C., Hermosilla, T., Wulder, M.A., White, J.C. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 084022.

Year: 2018

Available from: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39365

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aad5d2

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Abstract

Monitoring changes in vegetation at high-latitude and alpine treeline ecotones is critical for characterizing changes to carbon and energy budgets, plant species richness, and habitat suitability and is often considered a bellwether of a changing climate. Herein, we used transects of airborne laser scanning (ALS) data to identify alpine treeline ecotones in the Yukon Territory of Canada, and assessed changes in vegetation greenness using a time-series of Landsat imagery over a 30 year period from 1985 to 2015. Specifically, we calculated the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) from annual Landsat composites and assessed temporal trends within 500 m of detected forest-lines (i.e., transition point from continuous forest into treeline ecotones) using Theil–Sen's nonparametric regression. Across 74 detected treeline ecotones, 27.5% of Landsat pixels displayed a significant positive trend in EVI and 5.6% of pixels displayed a significant negative trend (p < 0.05). By using ALS data to determine vegetation structural class, we found that non-treed pixels had the highest percentage of significant positive trends in vegetation greenness (40.8%), followed by shrubs (30.5%), with lower percentages in sparse forests (18.9%) and open/dense forests (13.3%). These results suggest herbaceous and shrub vegetation types are undergoing the most significant changes in greenness, likely due to increases in shrub cover and herbaceous biomass in areas associated with these alpine treeline ecotones. The limited increases in EVI in forests likely indicates that vegetation cover is changing less rapidly in forests than in shrub and herbaceous vegetation types. Moreover, EVI may not be capturing increased height growth in forests near the treeline. Combining ALS data and Landsat time-series data provides a useful approach to locate and characterize alpine treeline ecotones, and enables the direct assessment of which vegetation structural classes are experiencing the greatest greening trends, thereby providing new insights to ecosystem change.

Plain Language Summary

Shows utility of time series remote sensing for monitoring. Monitoring changes in vegetation at high-latitude and alpine treeline ecotones is critical for characterizing changes to carbon and energy budgets, plant species richness, and habitat suitability and is often considered a bellwether of a changing climate. In this research, we used transects of airborne laser scanning (ALS) data to identify alpine treelines in the Yukon Territory of Canada, and assessed changes in vegetation greenness using a time-series of Landsat imagery over a 30 year period from 1985 to 2015. Specifically, we calculated the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) from annual Landsat composites and assessed temporal trends within 500 m of a detected treeline. By using ALS data to determine vegetation structural class, we found that non-treed pixels have the highest percentage of significant positive trends in vegetation greenness (40.8%), followed by shrubs (30.5%), with lower percentages in sparse forests (18.9%) and open/dense forests (13.3%).

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