Rainfall validates MODIS-derived NDVI as an index of spatio-temporal variation in green biomass across non-montane semi-arid and arid Central Asia

Adam F. Formica (Lead Author), Robert J. Burnside, Paul M. Dolman

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As satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) is related to vegetation biomass, it may provide a proxy for habitat quality across extensive species ranges where ground-truth data are scarce. However, NDVI may have limited accuracy in sparsely-vegetated arid and semi-arid environments due to signal contamination by substrate reflectance. To validate NDVI as a vegetation proxy in the low-altitude deserts of Central Asia, we examine its response to precipitation across the migratory corridor of Asian Houbara. NDVI increases with precipitation, both spatially (adj. R2 = 0.58, p < 0.001) and temporally (mean adj. R2 across n=244, 1 degree cells = 0.44; GLMM across cells p < 0.001). More vegetated regions show a stronger temporal response of vegetation biomass for a given precipitation increment (slope of NDVI to precipitation in per cell temporal models increases with inter-annual mean NDVI; adj. R2 = 0.38, p < 0.001), reinforcing the conclusion that NDVI provides a proxy for vegetation abundance. The strong signature of rainfall shows MODIS NDVI offers a potentially powerful proxy for spatial and temporal variation in arid and semi-arid vegetation at a resolution of 1 degree and 1 year over the houbara's breeding and wintering range, and probably also at finer spatial resolutions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11–21
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Early online date11 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • NDVI
  • validation
  • precipitation
  • Asian Houbara
  • extensive grazing
  • Pastoralism

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