International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Assessing woody vegetation cover change in north-west Australian savanna using aerial photography

R. J. Fensham and R. J. Fairfax

International Journal of Wildland Fire 12(4) 359 - 367
Published: 28 November 2003


Models to calibrate tree and shrub cover assessed from aerial photography with field measurements were developed for a range of vegetation types in north-western Australia. The models verify previous studies indicating that woody cover can be successfully determined from aerial photography. The calibration models were applied to estimates of woody vegetation cover determined for 279 randomly located sample areas in the Ord–Victoria Rivers region using aerial photography from 1948 to 1950 and 1988 to 1997. Overstorey cover increased from a regional average of 11.5% to 13.5% and understorey cover increased from 1.3% to 2.0%. Downs, Limestone Hills and Alluvia land-types showed the most substantial increases in overstorey cover while overstorey cover in the Limestone plains land-type decreased. Relatively open structured vegetation is most susceptible to thickening. Rainfall records reveal an extreme multi-year rainfall deficit in the study area in the 1930s and relatively wet times in the 1970s and 1980s. Interpretation of a limited set of aerial photographs taken between 1964 and 1972 suggests that most of the increases in cover have occurred since this time. The study highlights the possibility that the average trend of vegetation thickening represents recovery during the relatively wet times after the 1970s. There was no relationship between structural change and a grazing intensity surrogate (distance of sample points to stock watering-points). However, the causes of structural change are undoubtedly multi-factored and the relative contributions of climate, fire and grazing vary for different landscapes and tree species.

Keywords: grazing; rainfall patterns; savanna; vegetation structure; Victoria River district.

© IAWF 2003

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