Topographic and spectral data resolve land cover misclassification to distinguish and monitor wetlands in western Uganda


Wetlands provide vital wildlife habitat and ecosystem services, but changes in human land use has made them one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Although wetlands are generally protected by law, growing human populations increasingly drain and clear them to provide agricultural land, especially in tropical Africa. Managing and conserving wetlands requires accurately monitoring their spatial and temporal extent, often using remote sensing, but distinguishing wetlands from other land covers can be difficult. Here, we report on a method to separate wetlands dominated by papyrus (Cyperus papyrus L.) from spectrally similar grasslands dominated by elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum Schumach.). We tested whether topographic, spectral, and temperature data improved land cover classification within and around Kibale National Park, a priority conservation area in densely populated western Uganda. Slope and reflectance in the mid-IR range best separated the combined papyrus/elephant grass pixels (average accuracy: 86%). Using a time series of satellite images, we quantified changes in six land covers across the landscape from 1984 to 2008 (papyrus, elephant grass, forest, mixed agriculture/bare soil/short grass, mixed tea/shrub, and water). We found stark differences in how land cover changed inside versus outside the park, with particularly sharp changes next to the park boundary. Inside the park, changes in land cover varied with location and management history: elephant grass areas decreased by 52% through forest regeneration but there was no net difference in papyrus areas. Outside the park, elephant grass and papyrus areas decreased by 61% and 39%, mostly converted to agriculture. Our method and findings are particularly relevant in light of social, biotic, and abiotic changes in western Uganda, as interactions between climate change, infectious disease, and changing human population demographics and distribution are predicted to intensify existing agricultural pressure on natural areas.



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ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing



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