Normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) as a predictor of forage availability for ungulates in forest and field habitats
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Quantifying available plant biomass is a crucial step towards improving our understanding of herbivore ecology and trophic interactions. Thanks to the development of satellite-derived vegetation indices such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), ecologists have been provided with indirect estimates of primary production at various temporal and spatial scales. When it comes to forested ecosystems, most mammalian herbivores predominantly rely on the ground vegetation, yet little is known regarding the suitability of NDVI to predict this component of forest vegetation cover. This study compares the relationship between NDVI and ground vegetation biomass in two contrasting habitats (field and forest) in Eastern Poland over the spring and summer seasons (2007–2008). Results indicate that seasonality shapes the relationship between NDVI and ground vegetation biomass for each habitat type. In the field habitat, NDVI and ground vegetation biomass were positively related, with a stronger correlation between the two variables occurring in summer. In the forest habitat, a switch in the direction of the correlation between biomass and NDVI (from positive in spring to negative in summer) was detected. The timing of the switch was related to the timing of full development of tree and shrub leaves (late May–early June). This suggests that the usefulness of NDVI as a predictor of ground vegetation biomass is dependent upon the habitat considered and the targeted season.