Integrating Recent Land Cover Mapping Efforts to Update the National Gap Analysis Program's Species Habitat Map
Keywords: GAP, LANDFIRE, NLCD, Land Cover, Habitat
Abstract. Over the past decade, great progress has been made to develop national extent land cover mapping products to address natural resource issues. One of the core products of the GAP Program is range-wide species distribution models for nearly 2000 terrestrial vertebrate species in the U.S. We rely on deductive modeling of habitat affinities using these products to create models of habitat availability. That approach requires that we have a thematically rich and ecologically meaningful map legend to support the modeling effort. In this work, we tested the integration of the Multi-Resolution Landscape Characterization Consortium's National Land Cover Database 2011 and LANDFIRE's Disturbance Products to update the 2001 National GAP Vegetation Dataset to reflect 2011 conditions. The revised product can then be used to update the species models.
We tested the update approach in three geographic areas (Northeast, Southeast, and Interior Northwest). We used the NLCD product to identify areas where the cover type mapped in 2011 was different from what was in the 2001 land cover map. We used Google Earth and ArcGIS base maps as reference imagery in order to label areas identified as "changed" to the appropriate class from our map legend. Areas mapped as urban or water in the 2011 NLCD map that were mapped differently in the 2001 GAP map were accepted without further validation and recoded to the corresponding GAP class. We used LANDFIRE's Disturbance products to identify changes that are the result of recent disturbance and to inform the reassignment of areas to their updated thematic label. We ran species habitat models for three species including Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) and the White-tailed Jack Rabbit (Lepus townsendii) and Brown Headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). For each of three vertebrate species we found important differences in the amount and location of suitable habitat between the 2001 and 2011 habitat maps. Specifically, Brown headed nuthatch habitat in 2011 was −14% of the 2001 modeled habitat, whereas Lewis's Woodpecker increased by 4%. The white-tailed jack rabbit (Lepus townsendii) had a net change of −1% (11% decline, 10% gain). For that species we found the updates related to opening of forest due to burning and regenerating shrubs following harvest to be the locally important main transitions. In the Southeast updates related to timber management and urbanization are locally important.