Detection of goat herding impact on vegetation cover change using multi-season, multi-herd tracking and satellite imagery

Tarin Paz-Kagan, Vladimir Alexandroff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The frequency and severity of Mediterranean forest fires are expected to worsen as climate change progresses, heightening the need to evaluate understory fuel management strategies as rigorously as possible. Prescribed small-ruminant foraging is considered a sustainable, cost-effective strategy, but demonstrating a link between animal presence and vegetation change is challenging. This study tested whether the effect of small-ruminant herd presence in Mediterranean woodlands can be detected by integrating remote sensing and herd tracking at the landscape scale. The daily foraging routes of seven shepherded goat herds that exploited a 100-km2 forested area of the Judean Hills, Israel, were tracked over six years using GPS (Global Positioning System) collars. Herd locations were converted to stocking rates, with units of animal-presence-days per unit area per defined time period, and mapped at a spatial resolution of 10 m. We estimated pixel-level vegetation cover change based on a time series of 63 monthly Landsat-8 images expressed as the normalized soil-adjusted vegetation index (SAVI). Spatiotemporal trend analysis assessed the magnitude and direction of change, and a random forest machine-learning algorithm estimated the relative impact on vegetation cover change of environmental factors as well as the herd-related factors of stocking rate that accrued over six years and distance to the closest corral. The last two factors were among the most influential factors determining vegetation cover change in the regional and individual-herd analyses. In some respects, the permanent herds differed in their spatial pattern of stocking rate from the mobile herds that periodically relocated their night corral throughout the year, but stocking rate scaled logarithmically for all herds individually and combined. The combination of multi-season GPS tracking, remote sensing, and machine-learning techniques, applied at a regional scale, detected herd impacts on vegetation cover trends, consistent with livestock foraging being an effective tool for fuel reduction in Mediterranean woodlands.

Original languageEnglish
Article number164830
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2023


  • Fuel break management
  • GIS
  • Machine learning
  • Random forest
  • Remote sensing
  • Stocking rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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