Using imaging spectroscopy to predict above-ground plant biomass in alpine grasslands grazed by large ungulates

Anna K. Schweiger, Anita C. Risch, Alexander Damm, Mathias Kneubühler, Rudolf Haller, Michael E. Schaepman, Martin Schütz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Aims: Imaging spectroscopy enables measurement of vegetation optical properties to predict vegetation characteristics that are important for a wide range of ecological applications. Our aim was to predict fresh above-ground biomass of heterogeneous alpine grasslands in two areas and at two ecological scales. We assessed model plausibility for an intensively studied alpine grassland site (plant community scale) having distinct biomass and ungulate grazing patterns. Location: Alpine grasslands in the Swiss National Park. Methods: Biomass data were collected in 51 plots and combined with imaging spectroscopy data to establish simple ratio models. We analysed the predictive power and transferability of models developed in two areas (Val Trupchun, Il Fuorn) and at two ecological scales (regional, local). In a next step, we compared our results to the broadband normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). Finally, we assessed the correlations between model predictions and plant biomass distribution at the plant community scale. Results: The best local simple ratio models yielded a model fit of R2 = 0.60 and R2 = 0.30, respectively, the best regional model a fit of R2 = 0.44. NDVI model performance was weaker for the regional and one local area, but slightly better for the other local area. However, at the plant community scale only the local model showed a significant positive correlation (RS = 0.39) with the known biomass distribution. Further, predictive power decreased when models were transferred from one local area to another or from one ecological scale to another. Conclusions: Our study demonstrated that imaging spectroscopy is generally useful to predict above-ground plant biomass in alpine grasslands with distinct grazing patterns. Site-specific local models based on simple ratio indices performed better than the NDVI or regional models, suggesting that standardized approaches might not be adequate, particularly in heterogeneous grasslands inhabited by large ungulates. We emphasize the importance of collecting ground reference data covering the expected range of productivity and plant species composition. Moreover, plant community-scale data from a previous study proved to be extremely valuable to test model plausibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-190
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 International Association for Vegetation Science.


  • Consumption
  • Ecological scale
  • Heterogeneous
  • Quantity
  • Remote sensing
  • Swiss Alps


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