Continuous fields from imaging spectrometer data for ecosystem parameter mapping and their potential for animal habitat assessment in alpine regions

Mathias Kneubuhler, Alexander Damm, Anna Katharina Schweiger, Anita C. Risch, Martin Schutz, Michael E. Schaepman

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7 Scopus citations


Remote sensing offers an objective and efficient way to monitor ecosystem properties including their spatial variability across different land cover types. Especially, the representation of gradients of biochemical and structural properties of ecosystems using continuous fields (CF) approaches bears advantages compared to discrete land cover classification schemes. This paper presents a concept to synergistically generate CF maps of an alpine ecosystem parameter, i.e., total surface water content, from imaging spectrometer (IS) data. Further, the potential of linking such maps to ecological patterns, i.e., the spatial distribution of large ungulates is being assessed. In vegetated areas, total surface water content is considered as a surrogate of plant physiological status. Water is, besides temperature, light, or nutrients, an important limiting growth factor determining biomass production and therefore potential animal forage quantity in alpine grasslands. Resource ecology interested in trophic interactions between large ungulates and their forage requires spatial and temporal information on ecosystem properties and processes. The study area is located in the upper Trupchun Valley (Val Trupchun) in the Swiss National Park (SNP). The valley is famous for its high densities of chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra L.), ibex (Capra ibex L.), and red deer (Cervus elaphus L.). CF maps of total surface water content were derived from Airborne Prism EXperiment (APEX) IS data collected over the SNP in June 2010 and 2011. Abundance maps of predominant land cover classes were derived from linear spectral mixture analysis (SMA). They were then combined with water content information of the respective land cover originating from either empirically or physically based approaches. The resulting CF maps depicted a spatially continuous representation of relative total surface water content. APEX IS data from two consecutive seasons revealed differences in total surface water content in June 2010 and 2011, predominantly related to an advanced phenological development in spring 2011 and to considerable differences in snow cover between the 2 years. Linking total surface water content of grasslands to observed ungulates spatial distributions did not reveal any statistically significant patterns of habitat use. We conclude that water availability in Val Trupchun may not be the dominant limiting factor for potential forage quantity (biomass), or that ungulates choose their grazing sites based on other criteria, i.e., high nutritious quality (P, N). Nevertheless, multitemporal CF maps derived from APEX IS data were found to provide spatially explicit and fine-scaled information for analyses of an ecosystem's total surface water content. The combination of multitemporal CF maps of a wide range of ecosystem parameters and more accurate and extensive observations of animal habitat use will contribute to ongoing and future vegetation-ungulates research in the SNP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6822516
Pages (from-to)2600-2610
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Airborne imaging spectroscopy
  • continuous field mapping
  • ecosystem
  • land cover
  • vegetation
  • water content


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