The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Remotely-sensed analysis of ground-cover change in Queensland’s rangelands, 1988–2005

G. Bastin A C , R. Denham B , P. Scarth B , A. Sparrow A and V. Chewings A

A CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, PO Box 2111, Alice Springs, NT 0871, Australia.

B Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, GPO Box 2454, Brisbane, Qld 4001, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: Gary.Bastin@csiro.au

The Rangeland Journal 36(2) 191-204 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ13127
Submitted: 18 December 2013  Accepted: 3 March 2014   Published: 3 April 2014

Abstract

A dynamic reference-cover method and remotely-sensed ground cover were used to determine the change in the state of ~640 000 km2 of rangelands in Queensland at a sub-bioregional scale between 1988 and 2005. The method is based on persistence of ground cover in years of lower rainfall and objectively separates grazing effects on ground cover from those due to inter-annual variation in rainfall. The method is applied only to areas where trees and shrubs were not cleared. An indicator of rangeland state was derived, at Landsat-TM pixel resolution, by subtracting automatically-calculated reference ground cover from actual ground cover and then spatially averaging these deviations across the area of each sub-bioregion. Landscape heterogeneity may affect reference cover but, because it is stable over time, change in mean cover deficit between sequences of dry years reliably indicates change due to grazing. All 34 sub-regions analysed had similar or increased levels of seasonally-adjusted ground cover at the end of the analysis period, which was either 2003 or 2005. Allowing for possible landscape heterogeneity effects on assessed condition, the Einasleigh Uplands bioregion was comparatively in a better state and those analysed parts of the Mulga Lands bioregion in poorer state at the first assessment in 1988. Most sub-regions of the Cape York Peninsula, Brigalow Belt North, Desert Uplands, Gulf Plains and Mitchell Grass Downs bioregions lay between these two end-states. Simulated levels of pasture utilisation based on modelled pasture growth and statistically-based grazing pressure supported the results of this regional assessment of land condition. The dynamic reference-cover method will allow the Queensland Government to monitor future grazing effects on rangeland ground cover between sequences of drier years – quantitatively and efficiently across the entire state. The method can potentially be adapted to other rangeland jurisdictions where a suitable multi-temporal database of remotely sensed ground cover exists. The results from further analyses of remotely sensed ground cover will be reported through the Australian Collaborative Rangelands Information System.

Additional keywords: bioregion, ground-cover dynamics, heterogeneity, Landsat-TM, land condition, state, woody cover.


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