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Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Forest Ecology and Management (MS)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

First Advisor

Michael Falkowski


Ann Maclean


Utilizing remote sensing methods to assess landscape-scale ecological change are rapidly becoming a dominant force in the natural sciences. Powerful and robust non-parametric statistical methods are also actively being developed to compliment the unique characteristics of remotely sensed data. The focus of this research is to utilize these powerful, robust remote sensing and statistical approaches to shed light on woody plant encroachment into native grasslands--a troubling ecological phenomenon occurring throughout the world. Specifically, this research investigates western juniper encroachment within the sage-steppe ecosystem of the western USA. Western juniper trees are native to the intermountain west and are ecologically important by means of providing structural diversity and habitat for many species. However, after nearly 150 years of post-European settlement changes to this threatened ecosystem, natural ecological processes such as fire regimes no longer limit the range of western juniper to rocky refugia and other areas protected from short fire return intervals that are historically common to the region. Consequently, sage-steppe communities with high juniper densities exhibit negative impacts, such as reduced structural diversity, degraded wildlife habitat and ultimately the loss of biodiversity. Much of today's sage-steppe ecosystem is transitioning to juniper woodlands. Additionally, the majority of western juniper woodlands have not reached their full potential in both range and density. The first section of this research investigates the biophysical drivers responsible for juniper expansion patterns observed in the sage-steppe ecosystem. The second section is a comprehensive accuracy assessment of classification methods used to identify juniper tree cover from multispectral 1 m spatial resolution aerial imagery.