This is a part of the 2015 Fall VPS. For more VPS articles, click here
Project Team: Southern Rockies Ecological Forecasting
Team Location: NASA John C. Stennis Space Center ÛÒ Hancock County, Mississippi
Joseph Spruce (NASA Stennis Space Center)
Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA Langley Research Center)
Mule deer (Odocoileus heminonus) is a migratory ungulate species found in the western region of the US. Mule deer play a major role in ecosystem processes of the region and serve as an important indicator of ecological integrity. With increasing impacts from anthropogenic activities, changes in mule deer populations reflect changes can be related to habitat change that in turn can affect a broad range of wildlife species. Improved mule deer habitat maps provide more insights into the current and future habitat availability that resource managers can use in management and planning. The quantification of mule deer habitat quality remains a key information gap. In response, this project used NASA Earth observations to characterize the land utilized by the deer during the winter months. Project end-users indicated that recently burned habitats may provide improved high quality mule deer habitat. However, there is a question as to how much of wintering range has been burned and what is the condition of this burned habitats; consequently, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) phenology data from the ForWarn System were used to map burned habitat within the study area. Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) and Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) digital elevation model datasets were used to characterize the elevation of the winter range. Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) and Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) land cover datasets provided current and historical land cover to describe the forage within the habitats. Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model (PRISM) datasets were used to describe the monthly precipitation amounts and temperature. MODIS snow data also was considered. By correlating these NASA Earth observations, this project developed a habitat suitability model to determine characteristics of mule deer winter range habitats. The products will enable resource decision-makers to determine appropriate areas for conservation and restoration.