Assessment of juniper encroachment with the use of satellite imagery and geospatial data

Temuulen Tsagaan Sankey, Matthew J. Germino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Juniper encroachment into otherwise treeless shrub lands and grasslands is one of the most pronounced environmental changes observed in rangelands of western North America in recent decades. Most studies on juniper change are conducted over small areas, although encroachment is occurring throughout regions. Whether changes in juniper cover can be assessed over large areas with the use of long-term satellite data is an important methodological question. A fundamental challenge in using satellite imagery to determine tree abundance in rangelands is that a mix of trees, sagebrush, and herbaceous cover types can occur within a given image pixel. Our objective was to determine if spectral mixture analysis could be used to estimate changes in Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum Sarg) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma [Torr.] Little) cover over 20 yr and 20 000 ha in southeast Idaho with the use of Landsat imagery. We also examined the spatial patterns and variation of encroachment within our study area using Geographic Information Systems-based data sets of grazing use, land-cover types, and topography. Juniper cover determined from 15-cm-resolution digital aerial orthophotography was used to train and validate juniper presence/absence classification in 1985 and 2005 Landsat images. The two classified images were then compared to detect changes in juniper cover. The estimated rate of juniper encroachment over our study area was 22-30% between 1985 and 2005, consistent with previous ground-based studies. Moran's I analysis indicated that juniper encroachment pattern was spatially random rather than clustered or uniform. Juniper encroachment was significantly greater in grazed areas (P = 0.02), and in particular in grazed shrub land cover type (P = 0.06), compared to ungrazed areas. Juniper encroachment was also greater on intermediate slopes (10-35% slopes) compared to steeper or flatter terrain, and encroachment was somewhat less on north-facing (P = 0.03) and more on west-facing (P = 0.02) slopes compared to other aspects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-418
Number of pages7
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Change detection
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Grazing
  • Landsat Thematic Mapper
  • Remote sensing
  • Spatial pattern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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