Extracting Plant Phenology Metrics in a Great Basin Watershed: Methods and Considerations for Quantifying Phenophases in a Cold Desert

Sensors (Basel). 2016 Nov 18;16(11):1948. doi: 10.3390/s16111948.


Plant phenology is recognized as important for ecological dynamics. There has been a recent advent of phenology and camera networks worldwide. The established PhenoCam Network has sites in the United States, including the western states. However, there is a paucity of published research from semi-arid regions. In this study, we demonstrate the utility of camera-based repeat digital imagery and use of R statistical phenopix package to quantify plant phenology and phenophases in four plant communities in the semi-arid cold desert region of the Great Basin. We developed an automated variable snow/night filter for removing ephemeral snow events, which allowed fitting of phenophases with a double logistic algorithm. We were able to detect low amplitude seasonal variation in pinyon and juniper canopies and sagebrush steppe, and characterize wet and mesic meadows in area-averaged analyses. We used individual pixel-based spatial analyses to separate sagebrush shrub canopy pixels from interspace by determining differences in phenophases of sagebrush relative to interspace. The ability to monitor plant phenology with camera-based images fills spatial and temporal gaps in remotely sensed data and field based surveys, allowing species level relationships between environmental variables and phenology to be developed on a fine time scale thus providing powerful new tools for land management.

Keywords: PhenoCam network; StarDot cameras; camera-based repeat digital photography; pinyon and juniper; sagebrush steppe; semi-arid meadows.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods
  • Desert Climate*
  • Ecosystem
  • Photography / methods*
  • Seasons