Relationships between vegetation indices, fractional cover retrievals and the structure and composition of Brazilian Cerrado natural vegetation


This study explores the use of the relationship between the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and the shortwave infrared ratio (SWIR32) vegetation indices (VI) to retrieve fractional cover over the structurally complex natural vegetation of the Cerrado of Brazil using a time series of imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). Data from the EO-1 Hyperion sensor with 30 m pixel resolution is used to sample geographic and seasonal variation in NDVI, SWIR32, and the hyperspectral cellulose absorption index (CAI), and to derive end-member values for photosynthetic vegetation (PV), non-photosynthetic vegetation (NPV), and bare soil (BS) from a suite of protected and/or natural vegetation sites across the Cerrado. The end-members derived from relatively pure 30 m pixels are then applied to a 500 m pixel resolution MODIS time series using linear spectral unmixing to retrieve PV, NPV, and BS fractional cover (FPV, FNPV, and FBS). The two-way interaction response of MODIS-equivalent NDVI and SWIR32 was examined for regions of interest (ROI) collected within protected areas and nearby converted lands. The MODIS NDVI, SWIR32 and retrieved FPV, FNPV, and FBS are then compared to detailed cover and structural composition data from field sites, and the influence of the structural and compositional variation on the VIs and cover fractions is explored. The hyperion ROI analysis indicated that the two-way NDVI–SWIR32 response behaved as an effective surrogate for the two-way NDVI–CAI response for the campo limpo/grazed pasture to cerrado sensu stricto woody gradient. The SWIR32 sensitivity to the NPV and BS variation increased as the dry season progressed, but Cerrado savannah exhibited limited dynamic range in the NDVI–CAI and NDVI–SWIR32 two-way responses compared to the entire landscape, which also comprises fallow croplands and forests. Validation analysis of MODIS retrievals with Quickbird-2 images produced an RMSE value of 0.13 for FPV. However, the RMSE values of 0.16 and 0.18 for FBS and FNPV, respectively, were large relative to the seasonal and inter-annual variation. Analysis of site composition and structural data in relation to the MODIS-derived NDVI, SWIR32 and FPV, FNPV, and FBS, indicated that the VI signal and derived cover fractions were influenced by a complex mix of structure and cover but included a strong year-to-year seasonal effect. Therefore, although the MODIS NDVI–SWIR32 response could be used to retrieve cover fractions across all Cerrado land covers including bare cropland, pastures and forests, sensitivity may be limited within the natural Cerrado due to sub-pixel heterogeneity and limited BS and NPV sensitivity.

Publication Date


Journal Title

International Journal of Remote Sensing


Taylor & Francis

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type