Changes in Vegetation Structure after Long-term Grazing in Pinyon-Juniper Ecosystems: Integrating Imaging Spectroscopy and Field Studies

A. Thomas Harris, Gregory P. Asner, Mark E. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


We used field studies and imaging spectroscopy to investigate the effect of grazing on vegetation cover in historically grazed and ungrazed high-mesa rangelands of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. Airborne hyperspectral remote sensing data coupled with spectral mixture analysis uncovered subtle variations in the key biogeophysical properties of these rangelands: the fractional surface cover of photosynthetic vegetation (PV), nonphotosynthetic vegetation (NPV), and bare soil. The results show that a high-mesa area with long-term grazing management had significantly higher PV (26.3%), lower NPV (54.5%), and lower bare soil (17.2%) cover fractions in comparison to historically ungrazed high-mesa pinyon-juniper rangelands. Geostatistical analyses of remotely sensed PV, NPV, and bare soil were used to analyze differences in ecosystem structure between grazed and ungrazed regions. They showed that PV was spatially autocorrelated over longer distances on grazed areas, whereas NPV and bare soil were spatially autocorrelated over longer distances on ungrazed areas. Field data on the fractional cover of PV, NPV, and bare soil confirmed these remote sensing results locally. Field studies also showed a significantly higher percentage composition of shrubs (27.3%) and forbs (30.2%) and a significantly lower composition of grasses (34.4%) and cacti (1.1%) in grazed areas. No significant difference between grazed and ungrazed mesas was found in percentage composition of trees or in the number of canopies per hectare. Our combined remote sensing and field-based results suggest that grazing has contributed to woody thickening in these pinyon-juniper ecosystems through an increase in shrubs in the understory and intercanopy spaces. These results improve our understanding of broad-scale changes in pinyon-juniper ecosystem structural composition and variability due to long-term grazing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-383
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Grazing
  • Hyperspectral remote sensing
  • Imaging spectroscopy
  • Land use
  • Overgrazing
  • Pinyon-juniper ecosystems
  • Relict areas
  • Woody encroachment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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