Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Forest Ecology and Management 544 (2023) 121184.


Open access.


Woody species encroachment is occurring within the semi-arid grasslands of the Nebraska Sandhills U.S., primarily driven by native Juniperus virginiana and Pinus ponderosa, altering ecosystems and the services they provide. Effective, low cost, and cross-scale monitoring of woody species growth and performance is necessary for integrated grassland and forest management in the face of climate variability and change. In this study, we sought to establish a relationship between remote sensing-derived vegetation indices (VIs), tree dendrochronological (raw and standardized tree ring width) measurements, and the abiotic environment [(precipitation, temperature, Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), and soil water content (0–300 cm depth)], over a 30-year period (1984–2013), to assess the performance of encroaching woody J. virginiana and P. ponderosa within the Nebraska Sandhills. We also investigated whether VIs can be used as an effective alternative tool to replace or complement ground measurements. Our results indicate that precipitation, temperature, and PDSI were significant (p < 0.05) predictors of J. virginiana and P. ponderosa growth based on dendrochronological measurements and VIs, while soil water content from 40 to 300 cm depth was a significant predictor of J. virginiana performance. Out of the six VIs that were investigated, four were significant predictors of tree ring growth. R2 values between grassland VIs and growing season climate were greater than those of J. virginiana or P. ponderosa, while grassland performance was decoupled from soil water content. Additionally, climatic conditions in the previous year were significant determinants of current year growth of tree species but did not affect current year grassland performance. This study provides evidence for the efficacy of remote sensing-based VIs in monitoring interannual variation in the growth of woody species, while determining abiotic factors impacting the growth of grassland vegetation, J. virginiana, and P. ponderosa in the Nebraska Sandhills.