TitleMapping the distribution and extent of India's semi-arid open natural ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsMadhusudan M.D, Vanak ATamim
Date Published08/2022

Aim Non-forested open natural ecosystems (ONEs) support high biodiversity as well as livelihoods of millions of pastoralists, but are highly threatened due to land conversion. To improve the recognition of their value, we generated a high-resolution (30 m) map of ONEs in the low elevation arid and semi-arid regions of India. Location Indian subcontinent. Taxon Open natural ecosystems, consisting of a range of non-forested habitats. Methods We used public datasets in the Google Earth Engine catalogue to identify and mask out pixels with non-ONE land-cover types, and biophysical attributes outside the environmental envelopes of ONEs. We used 181,812 ONE and 116,447 non-ONE training points along with the input composite image to train random forest classifiers to estimate the probability of a pixel being an ONE. We developed a series of local classifiers for each of eight regions of interest and created a mask of pixels with >= 50% probability of being an ONE. Results The overall classification accuracy for this map was 85%, with a Kappa statistic of 0.70. We find that ONEs cover approximately 320,000 km(2) (10%) of India's land surface, but <5% of ONEs are covered under the existing protected area network of India. ONE areas vary greatly by region, from 6 km(2) in New Delhi (0.4% area) to 115,069 km(2) in Rajasthan (33% area). Main Conclusions A large proportion of India's geographical area represents an ecosystem that is un-recognized and under-protected. This open data source can be used by policy makers and planners to exclude these habitats when considering the location of renewable energy, tree planting for carbon sequestration and other development projects that negatively impact ONEs. We encourage further refinement of ONE maps in India, incorporating vegetation and floristic characteristics, as well as further consideration of these vulnerable neglected ecosystems in other regions of the world.