Climate change, population growth and fire affect the vegetation of Western dryland ecosystems. For example, fire has changed some native shrub-dominated landscapes so that invasive weeds thrive and then perpetuate fire cycles.
To help track these impacts, Boise State researchers Nancy Glenn and Alejandro (Lejo) Flores have received a three-year $748,000 NASA Terrestrial Ecology grant. Their work will create models that quantify data from remote sensing devices on planes or satellites.
“We need to develop methods to better identify and quantify vegetation patterns across the landscape,” said Glenn professor of geosciences and director of the Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory.
Using remote sensors allows researchers to collect data on soils, moisture and vegetation faster and easier than traditional fieldwork. The problem, says Flores, an assistant professor of geosciences, is the sensors often collect too much information for most current ecosystem models to make use of. So their work will create a new class of models that more fully takes advantage of the data collected.
“The advantages of our approach is that we can map these properties over very large regions and monitor their change through time,” Flores said. “In doing so, we can better understand the complexities of ecosystem change at different scales.”
Glenn said it will take about three years to set up the models, which NASA and other researchers and land managers will be able to use.
Glenn said part of the grant also will fund research at two other universities and pay NASA for flying the sensors. Key collaborators on the project are Susan Ustin from University of California, Davis, and Jessica Mitchell from Appalachian State University.