Question: How are plant communities of the Flooding Pampa grasslands spatially distributed? How do canopy dynamics of the different communities vary among seasons and years?
Location: Buenos Aires province, Argentina.
Methods: We characterized the distribution of communities through a supervised classification based on four Landsat 5 TM images. We sampled species composition of 200 sites, with 130 of them corresponding to natural communities. Of the sampling areas 60% were used to classify, and the remaining areas to assess classification accuracy. We characterized the seasonal and interannual variability of canopy dynamics using NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) data provided by MODIS /Terra images.
Results: Overall accuracy of the classification was satisfactory. The resulting maps showed a landscape formed by a matrix of extended lowlands with small patches of mesophytic and humid mesophytic meadows. The October scene (near the peak of productivity) was particularly important in discriminating among communities. The seasonal pattern of NDVI differed among communities and years. Mesophytic meadows had the highest NDVI mean and the lowest interannual coefficient of variation, halophytic steppes had the lowest mean, and vegetated ponds were the most variable.
Conclusions: These grasslands have a fine-grained heterogeneity at the landscape scale. Each plant community has distinct seasonal and interannual canopy dynamics. These two features of grassland structure and functioning represent key information for rangeland management that may be obtained through a combination of minor field sampling and remote sensing.