Multiscale analysis of tree cover and aboveground carbon stocks in pinyon–juniper woodlands


  • Corresponding Editor: D. D. Breshears.


Regional, high-resolution mapping of vegetation cover and biomass is central to understanding changes to the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle, especially in the context of C management. The third most extensive vegetation type in the United States is pinyon–juniper (P–J) woodland, yet the spatial patterns of tree cover and aboveground biomass (AGB) of P–J systems are poorly quantified. We developed a synoptic remote-sensing approach to scale up pinyon and juniper projected cover (hereafter “cover”) and AGB field observations from plot to regional levels using fractional photosynthetic vegetation (PV) cover derived from airborne imaging spectroscopy and Landsat satellite data. Our results demonstrated strong correlations (P < 0.001) between field cover and airborne PV estimates (r2 = 0.92), and between airborne and satellite PV estimates (r2 = 0.61). Field data also indicated that P–J AGB can be estimated from canopy cover using a unified allometric equation (r2 = 0.69; P < 0.001). Using these multiscale cover–AGB relationships, we developed high-resolution, regional maps of P–J cover and AGB for the western Colorado Plateau. The P–J cover was 27.4% ± 9.9% (mean ± SD), and the mean aboveground woody C converted from AGB was 5.2 ± 2.0 Mg C/ha. Combining our data with the southwest Regional Gap Analysis Program vegetation map, we estimated that total contemporary woody C storage for P–J systems throughout the Colorado Plateau (113 600 km2) is 59.0 ± 22.7 Tg C. Our results show how multiple remote-sensing observations can be used to map cover and C stocks at high resolution in drylands, and they highlight the role of P–J ecosystems in the North American C budget.