Santin-Janin, H, Garel, M, Chapuis, JL, Pontier, D (2009). Assessing the performance of NDVI as a proxy for plant biomass using non-linear models: a case study on the Kerguelen archipelago. POLAR BIOLOGY, 32(6), 861-871.
Numerous ecological studies, including of the polar environment, are now using the remotely sensed normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI, e.g. PAL-NDVI or MODIS-NDVI) as a proxy of vegetation productivity rather than performing direct vegetation assessments. Even though previous data strongly suggested a saturation of NDVI at high biomass values, few studies have explicitly included this characteristic in the modelling process. Here, we developed a generalized non-linear model to explicitly model the relationship between temporal variations of NDVI (Pathfinder AVHRR Land 8 km dataset) and empirical field data. We illustrated our approach on the Kerguelen archipelago by using a green biomass index (point-intercept protocol) sampled at a small scale relative to PAL-NDVI data, and in presence of spatial (water) and temporal (cloud contamination, snow) heterogeneity, i.e. field conditions encountered in many ecological studies. We showed a strong relationship (r (pred.obs) = 0.89 [0.77; 0.95](95%)) between this index and the seasonal component of NDVI time series (NDVIcomp). Despite the absence of lignified species in the stand, the NDVIcomp reached an asymptote (0.54 +/- 0.05) for high values of green biomass index stressing the need to account for non-linearity when relating NDVI and plant measurements. We provided here a new methodological framework to standardize comparisons between studies assessing performance of NDVI as a proxy of vegetation data.