Patch-level based vegetation change and environmental drivers in Tarim River drainage area of West China
Information on vegetation-related land cover change and the principle drivers is critical for environmental management and assessment of desertification processes in arid environments. In this study, we investigated patch-level based changes in vegetation and other major land cover types in lower Tarim River drainage area in Xinjiang, West China, and examined the impacts of environmental factors on those changes. Patterns of land cover change were analyzed for the time sequence of 1987–1999–2004 based on satellite-derived land classification maps, and their relationships with environmental factors were determined using Redundancy Analysis (RDA). Environmental variables used in the analysis included altitude, slope, aspect, patch shape index (fractal dimension), patch area, distance to water body, distance to settlements, and distance to main roads. We found that during the study period, 26% of the land experienced cover changes, much of which were the types from the natural riparian and upland vegetation to other land covers. The natural riparian and upland vegetation patches were transformed mostly to desert and some to farmlands, indicating expanding desertification processes of the region. A significant fraction of the natural riparian and upland vegetation experienced a phase of alkalinity before becoming desert, suggesting that drought is not the exclusive environmental driver of desertification in the study area. Overall, only a small proportion of the variance in vegetation-related land cover change is explainable by environmental variables included in this study, especially during 1987–1999, indicating that patch-level based vegetation change in this region is partly attributable to environmental perturbations. The apparent transformation from the natural riparian and upland vegetation to desert indicates an on-going process of desertification in the region.
KeywordsArid environment Desertification Environmental perturbations Patch dynamics RDA Vegetation change West China
This study was jointly supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (grant 2008BADB0B0302), the State Forestry Administration of China (grant 200804001), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant 90502004), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant 30500081). We are grateful to the Coordinating Editor and two anonymous reviewers for help with improving the writing of the manuscript.
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