Archive for July 2008
This is a marker for work in progress. Do not cite.
This morning I was contacted in order to provide geographical information for one of our partners in the Reforlan project. The aim of the research is to find priority areas for forest restoration.
The question of how to go about the analysis is thought provoking. I have already mentioned the problem of aggregation error in this weblog. Pooling data in order to find mean values does not work at the scale in which most of the important processes act. The classic example is mean rainfall for Mexico. At the same time, some elements on the landscape cannot be mapped at a fine scale, and others, such as management units (farms or ejidos) form natural aggregation according to social factors.
So perhaps the first step would be determine priority pixels according to a limited number of physical processes that can be resonably accurately mapped at fine resolution (30 m x 30 m) then aggregate to find the number of pixels in each agronomic unit that could be restored. An analysis of social and economic factors at this scale could then be undertaken in order to discover where restoration might be feasible and bring the most social benefit.
The mappable factors at the 30m pixel scale would be
1. Forest cover and recent deforestation: Pixels that have forest cover presumably do not need restoring. Pixels that have been recently deforested may be prioritised, although natural regneration may be a suitable mechanism in some areas close to the original forest.
2. Slope: Areas with steep slopes must be prioritised for restoration in order to avoid soil erosion. Factors such as slope length may be taken into account.
3. Insolation (aspect): South facing slopes that receive intense insolation during the dry winter months may be in need of restoration, but successful restoration may be more challenging.
4. Distance from rivers: Riparian areas may be in greater need of restoration and trees may establish more successfully in moist soil. At the same time these may be the most valuable areas for irrigated agriculture.
5. Conservation status: Reserves should perhaps take priority when restoration is being considered.
The interesting element of the research involves finding a suitable way of combing the layers in order to allow ranks to be calculated. A typical approach is weighted averaging, but this may not allow interactive effects to be included.
The map below shows the estimated current extent of the forest in the region and recent deforestation hotspots.
Areas with the steepest slopes do tend to coincide with remaining forest cover, as would be expected, but some recent deforestation both intentionally and as a result of forest fires has taken place in the steeply sloping “Sierra” region in the West and South West and South of the study region.
North facing slopes receive less direct sunlight during clear winter days and are more likely to be covered in evergreen forest. Fuel dries out on south facing slopes leading to more intense fires. Regeneration may be difficult due to hydric stress.
Most deforestation has occured close to the major rivers.
It may also be useful to evaluate soil type (not shown) although the maps tend to be at a coarse scale.
Once pixels have been ranked according to aptitude and priority for restoration (the two factors may be inversely related in many cases) they may be aggregated to agricultural management units for further analysis of socio-economic factors.
It would seem reasonable to assume that research aimed to fill a basic knowledge gap should receive more attention than projects aimed at evaluating complex untestable theory. However in the field of tropical forest ecology it not always clear that fundamental basic knowledge gaps are either being identified or filled quickly enough. An issue that has concerned me for many years is the persistent difficulty in accurately tracing and understanding the spatial distribution of tropical organisms, particularly trees and other plants.
Trees are immobile, long lived, highly visible elements of the tropical landscape. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that we already know a great deal regarding their distribution. However trees form forests. Forests cause numerous logistical difficulties for field research. Tropical forests can be hostile, disorienting, pathless environments. They also contain a complex set of natural resources. Illegal exploitation of some of these resources such as valuable timber or plants with interesting pharmaceutical properties (of various types) may obstruct scientific research. Many tropical forests have also provided refuge at times for members of radical political movements.
Tropical trees can be extremely difficult to identify to species. Flowers, fruits and leaves may be out of reach. Their taxonomy is complex and dynamic. Tropical families are unfamiliar to researchers trained in temperate zones. Many species have converged in terms of leaf shape and characteristics.
This has led to chronic ignorance of the distribution of tropical tree species. Only a small fraction of the total area covered by tropical forest of any description has been studied in any detail. Regional species lists rely on data from a few well known areas, but within any given region distribution patterns are poorly known. Many assumptions are made concerning the nature of anthropogenic influence on areas of forest. Some are justifiable, some tend to exaggerate human impact on naturally resilient forest ecosystems.
Given the poor state of our knowledge it is vitally important that the few reliable data sources that are available are used to their full capacity. However even the best global data sources can only provide a small part of the picture alone. Missouri Botanical Gardens (MOBOT) has one of the largest collections of tropical plant specimens of any herbarium. MOBOT has provided online access to most of this data. Yet even when the whole set of tropical tree collections with known coordinates from this source are mapped on to space large gaps are revealed in the empirically based knowledge they provide regarding tree diversity.
A PostGIS query can be used together with the graticule trick mentioned in the last post to map the density of collections within 0.1 degree (approximately 100 km2) grid squares in the MOBOT Vast data base. The query is provided as a model for counting incidences within grid squares. The data itself is stored locally and forms part of a larger set that we have collated over a period of several years.
CREATE TABLE meso.count with oids as
SELECT g.ncollects as Ncollects, a.* from
(SELECT d.gid, count(c.id) as ncollects
FROM meso.trees c, grat01 d
WHERE c.the_geom && d.the_geom
AND contains(d.the_geom, c.the_geom)
AND c.source like ‘MOBOT%’
group by d.gid) g
If it is assumed that 100 collections per 100 km2 is a minimum needed to provide a reasonable picture of the distribution of tree species (there may be more than 400 species in each grid square in some regions) the map below shows that only a fraction of the area of mesoamerica can be considered to be well enough typified by this data set to allow distribution patterns to be mapped through the data alone. This contrasts sharply with the floristic atlases available for most of Western Europe based on known occurrences.
Even when the grid squares with less than 50 collections (far fewer than needed) are added to the map there are many completely unknown areas when this data source is taken alone. Where collections have been taken the density is generally below 5 per 100 km2. Direct empirical evidence regarding tree diversity hot spots is simply not available. Comparisons between Chiapas, Yucatan, Belize and Costa Rica cannot be made from the data alone.
In contrast to our poor knowledge regarding forest composition, our knowledge regarding the extent of both forests and deforestation is becoming ever more accurate and detailed as high resolution satelite imagery becomes available. It appears that we are looking at forests, but not seeing the trees.
PostGIS does not support raster data as yet. Hopefully there should be raster support soon. Raster layers can be visualised from a local or remote server using geoserver. However having raster layers integrated into a PostGIS data base would be extremely useful for tasks such as overlaying herbarium records with continuous extrapolated climate data or elevation.
I have previously experimented with importing the points of a raster layer. This works quite well. It can be used for simple spatial overlays using proximity operations. However the visual impression produced by the points is not very satisfactory and a query using the contains operator would be more efficient.
QGIS has a plugin for graticule generation. This forms a grid of individual polygons. So if a grid is produced using the graticule plugin of QGIS and then imported into PostGIS using SPIT it is possible to partially mimic a raster layer, although with some computational overhead.
If R is run from GRASS the following lines can be used to import the appropriate raster layers at a chosen resolution into R.
Most of the lines of the script are concerned with calculations on the basic worldclim data. The dataset consists of 36 grids of monthly mean minimum temperature, maximum temperature and precipitation. Some mean annual values may be derived for simplicity.
The trick for importing the layers to PostGIS from R is shown below. If the data is in R as a spatialPixelDataFrame the coordinates can be added to the data to form a table.
This table can then be saved to a PostGIS database using ODBC.
odbcQuery(con,”SET search_path =chiapas, pg_catalog;”)
Now either in pgadmin or running the queries directly through R by placing them inside an odbcQuery function.
ALTER TABLE chiapas.worldclim add column gid serial NOT NULL;
ALTER TABLE chiapas.worldclim ADD CONSTRAINT worldclim_pkey PRIMARY KEY(gid);
ALTER TABLE chiapas.worldclim ADD COLUMN the_geom geometry;
SET the_geom = PointFromText(‘POINT(‘ || s1 || ‘ ‘ || s2 || ‘)’,4326);
grat30arc_idx_geo on grat30arc USING GIST(the_geom GIST_GEOMETRY_OPS);
worldclim_idx_geo on chiapas.worldclim USING GIST(the_geom GIST_GEOMETRY_OPS);
If a polygon graticule called grat30arc covering the same region with a 30 arch second grid has been produced using the graticule plugin in Qgis and imported into the public schema then the average values of the points within each grid square can then be calculated for the graticule and a new table produced using this as a model query.
CREATE TABLE chiapas.worldclim2 with oids as
SELECT a.*, g.totprec, g.meanmin, g.meanmax, g.elev from
(SELECT AVG(c.totprec) as totprec,
AVG(c.meanmim) as meanmin,
AVG(c.meanmax) as meanmax,
AVG(c.alt) as elev,d.gid
FROM chiapas.worldclim c, grat30arc d
WHERE c.the_geom && d.the_geom
AND contains(d.the_geom, c.the_geom) group by d.gid) g
The result is very similar to the visualisation of an arcgrid in arcview when it is viewed in QGis over a shaded relief map. In this case the pixels are approximately 1 km x 1 km (30 arc seconds or 0.008333333 degrees) and the elevation lines up well with the contours derived from a 1:250,000 map.
Spatial indices on the herbarium table and the worldclim2 layer with the following
herb_idx_geo on herb.herbario USING GIST(the_geom GIST_GEOMETRY_OPS);
worldclim2_idx_geo on chiapas.worldclim2 USING GIST(the_geom GIST_GEOMETRY_OPS);
Then the following query runs in less than four seconds to provide 6,000 herbarium records with extrapolated climate data to the nearest km.
SELECT h.*, w.totprec, w.elev,w.meanmin,w.meanmax
FROM herb.herbario h, chiapas.worldclim2 w
WHERE h.the_geom && w.the_geom
AND contains(w.the_geom, h.the_geom);
select h.*, w.totprec, w.elev,w.meanmin,w.meanmax
from herb.herbario h, chiapas.worldclim2 w
where ST_contains(w.the_geom, h.the_geom);
Our ongoing work with Conservation International has led to the first regional forest cover change map that has been derived using a single consistent methodology. The details of the study have not yet been published. However as we work on validation and interpretation of the results a pattern has become very clear.
Previous deforestation studies in Chiapas have usually concentrated attention on well defined study areas. This could produce the impression that deforestation is a homogeneous process over the whole state. In fact study areas selected for deforestation analysis are usually those with the highest rates when compared to the rest of the region. This is quite natural. Many of the areas where deforestation is no longer occurring have already lost a large proportion of their forest cover. However the overall regional deforestation we have quantified is considerably lower than previous studies imply.
Where deforestation has followed the classic pattern of forest conversion to permanent agriculture or pasture the CI methodology, which is based on Landsat imagery, has provided a remarkably good match with high resolution imagery. However where chronic, low level forest disturbance takes place the overall impact of human activities are much less easily quantified at the resolution of Landsat imagery. The difficulty in accurately evaluating forest cover change increases in areas of dry forest. Nevertheless regional patterns are robust.
The clearest deforestation hotspot in the state of Chiapas remains the Marques de Comillas area in the Southern Lacandon. Deforestation and carbon sequestration in this area has previously been studied in some detail by De Jong et al 2000
The two images below are animated gif files which change when clicked on to enlarge them to full size. The show clearly how Landsat based deforestation analysis coincides in this area with the conclusions drawn from visual analysis of recent high resolution imagery. The visual analysis is produced by overlaying our change analysis in Google Earth using Geoserver, and through the use of QGis.