Southwest Biological Science Center
Example of vegetation map from RK 107.3–107.7 (from figure 4).
A vegetation database of the riparian vegetation located within the Colorado River ecosystem (CRE), a subsection of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and the western boundary of Grand Canyon National Park, was constructed using four-band image mosaics acquired in May 2002. A digital line scanner was flown over the Colorado River corridor in Arizona by ISTAR Americas, using a Leica ADS–40 digital camera to acquire a digital surface model and four-band image mosaics (blue, green, red, and near-infrared) for vegetation mapping. The primary objective of this mapping project was to develop a digital inventory map of vegetation to enable patch- and landscape-scale change detection, and to establish randomized sampling points for ground surveys of terrestrial fauna (principally, but not exclusively, birds). The vegetation base map was constructed through a combination of ground surveys to identify vegetation classes, image processing, and automated supervised classification procedures. Analysis of the imagery and subsequent supervised classification involved multiple steps to evaluate band quality, band ratios, and vegetation texture and density. Identification of vegetation classes involved collection of cover data throughout the river corridor and subsequent analysis using two-way indicator species analysis (TWINSPAN).
Vegetation was classified into six vegetation classes, following the National Vegetation Classification Standard, based on cover dominance. This analysis indicated that total area covered by all vegetation within the CRE was 3,346 ha. Considering the six vegetation classes, the sparse shrub (SS) class accounted for the greatest amount of vegetation (627 ha) followed by Pluchea (PLSE) and Tamarix (TARA) at 494 and 366 ha, respectively. The wetland (WTLD) and Prosopis-Acacia (PRGL) classes both had similar areal cover values (227 and 213 ha, respectively). Baccharis-Salix (BAXX) was the least represented at 94 ha. Accuracy assessment of the supervised classification determined that accuracies varied among vegetation classes from 90% to 49%. Causes for low accuracies were similar spectral signatures among vegetation classes. Fuzzy accuracy assessment improved classification accuracies such that Federal mapping standards of 80% accuracies for all classes were met.
The scale used to quantify vegetation adequately meets the needs of the stakeholder group. Increasing the scale to meet the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)-National Park Service (NPS)National Mapping Program’s minimum mapping unit of 0.5 ha is unwarranted because this scale would reduce the resolution of some classes (e.g., seep willow/coyote willow would likely be combined with tamarisk). While this would undoubtedly improve classification accuracies, it would not provide the community-level information about vegetation change that would benefit stakeholders. The identification of vegetation classes should follow NPS mapping approaches to complement the national effort and should incorporate the alternative analysis for community identification that is being incorporated into newer NPS mapping efforts. National Vegetation Classification is followed in this report for association- to formation-level categories.
Accuracies could be improved by including more environmental variables such as stage elevation in the classification process and incorporating object-based classification methods. Another approach that may address the heterogeneous species issue and classification is to use spectral mixing analysis to estimate the fractional cover of species within each pixel and better quantify the cover of individual species that compose a cover class. Varying flights to capture vegetation at different times of the year might also help separate some vegetation classes, though the cost may be prohibitive. Lastly, photointerpretation instead of automated mapping could be tried. Photointerpretation would likely not improve accuracies in this case, however, because the image quality that was obtained prevented visual differentiation of several major vegetation classes like tamarisk, mesquite, and seep willow. In addition, the time and associated costs necessary to photointerpret the river corridor would be prohibitive.
The vegetation base map for the CRE provides an initial inventory of the area covered by vegetation and an indication of which species dominate the river corridor. The map is a critical element in assessing the status and trends of riparian vegetation for the CRE at a large scale. It contributes systemwide information that can promote a far-reaching understanding of how dam operations affect biological resources. Beyond helping to assess vegetated area change and vegetation class changes over time, map data can be linked to ecosystem function and structure questions. Specifically, questions can begin to be addressed about how changes in riparian vegetation affect other resources like campsite area, exotic species expansion and control, and food web development in the terrestrial and aquatic system. A long-term systemwide approach to vegetation area inventories, in addition to local-scale measures of change, is a critical tool in monitoring change in riparian vegetation along the river corridor associated with dam operations.
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