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Satellite sleuthing: does remotely sensed land-cover change signal ecological degradation in a protected area?

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We evaluate whether remotely sensed land-cover change within a newly protected area signalled human-driven ecological degradation. Vegetation density changed in a quarter of pixels during the first 13¬†years (1986–1999) following the sanctuary's formal enclosure, with many patches showing a decrease in density. We use on-the-ground data collected in 2006 in 132 random plots to explore whether these changes in vegetation density reliably signalled latent shifts in local diversity of woody plants and whether they could be attributed to illicit activities including fuel wood collection and livestock grazing. Location 

Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India. Results 

Species richness, species sharing, species assemblages, and incidence of invasive and useful species were statistically similar among plots in which vegetation density had decreased, increased or remained similar. Likewise, intensity of disturbance associated with human activities was similar across these plot types. Main conclusions 

Our data provide no clear evidence that local changes in vegetation density signalled latent shifts in local diversity of woody plants. They also fail to reveal any clear association between local changes in vegetation density and human-related activities. Finding no evidence that land-cover change led to biotic erosion, we reflect on the utility of resource-use bans in protected areas, particularly those embedded within historically coupled human-nature systems.
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Keywords: Biotic homogenization; India; Prosopis juliflora; satellite images; tree species diversity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA, 2: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, Houston, Texas 77005, USA, 3: Department of Zoology, Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur-342001, India, 4: Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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