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Analyzing Vegetation Change in an Elephant-Impacted Landscape Using the Moving Standard Deviation Index

Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute
Publication Date
  • Msdi
  • Vegetation Change
  • Remote Sensing
  • African Elephant
  • <I>Loxodonta Africana</I>
  • Herbivory
  • Modis
  • Chobe National Park
  • Botswana
  • Ecology


Northern Botswana is influenced by various socio-ecological drivers of landscape change. The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is one of the leading sources of landscape shifts in this region. Developing the ability to assess elephant impacts on savanna vegetation is important to promote effective management strategies. The Moving Standard Deviation Index (MSDI) applies a standard deviation calculation to remote sensing imagery to assess degradation of vegetation. Used previously for assessing impacts of livestock on rangelands, we evaluate the ability of the MSDI to detect elephant-modified vegetation along the Chobe riverfront in Botswana, a heavily elephant-impacted landscape. At broad scales, MSDI values are positively related to elephant utilization. At finer scales, using data from 257 sites along the riverfront, MSDI values show a consistent negative relationship with intensity of elephant utilization. We suggest that these differences are due to varying effects of elephants across scales. Elephant utilization of vegetation may increase heterogeneity across the landscape, but decrease it within heavily used patches, resulting in the observed MSDI pattern of divergent trends at different scales. While significant, the low explanatory power of the relationship between the MSDI and elephant utilization suggests the MSDI may have limited use for regional monitoring of elephant impacts.

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