Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Geospatial Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Niall P. Hanan


fire, herbaceous, leaf area Index, livestock herbivory, MODIS, woody


In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) tree-grass systems commonly referred to as savannas dominating drylands, play a critical role in social, cultural, economic and environmental systems. These coupled natural-human systems support millions of people through pastoralism, are important global biodiversity hotspots and play a critical role in global biogeochemical cycles. Despite the importance of SSA savannas, they have been marginalized for years as most governments neglect dryland resources in favor of agricultural research and development assistance. Hence, lack of spatially and temporally accurate information on the status and trends in savanna resources has led to poor planning and management. This scenario calls for research to derive information that can be used to guide development, management and conservation of savannas for enhanced human wellbeing, livestock productivity and wildlife management. The above considerations motivated a more detailed study of the composition, temporal and spatial variability of savannas, comprising of three components. Remote sensing data was combined with field and literature data to: partition Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) total leaf area index (LAIA) time series into its woody (LAIW) and herbaceous (LAIH) constituents for SSA; and application of the partitioned LAI to determine how changes in herbaceous and woody LAI, affect fire regimes and livestock herbivory in SSA. The results of this analysis include presentation of algorithm for partitioning of MODIS LAIA from 2003-2015. Biome phenologies, seasonality and distribution of woody and herbaceous LAI are presented and the long-term average 8-day phenologies availed for evaluation and research application. In determining how changes in herbaceous and woody LAI affect fire regimes in SSA, we found that herbaceous fuelload (indexed as LAIH) correlated more closely with fire, than with LAIW, providing more explanatory power than overall biomass in fire activity. We observed an asymptotic relationship between herbaceous fuel-load and fire with trees promoting fires in dry ecosystems but suppressing fires in wetter regions. In the livestock herbivory analysis we found that the more refined forage indices (LAIH and LAIW) explained more of the variability in livestock distribution than the aggregate biomass, with livestock favoring moderate to nutrient rich forage resources dependent on animal body size.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Savannas -- Africa, Sub-Saharan -- Remote sensing.
Savanna ecology.
Fire management -- Africa, Sub-Saharan.
Vegetation management -- Africa, Sub-Saharan.


Includes bibliographical references



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright