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Landscape Dynamics in North East Region of India (Meghalaya State) Using Spatial Decision Tree Model

Gautam Talukdar
Forestry and Ecology Division Indian Institute of Remote Sensing 4, Kalidas Road, Dehradun, India E-mail:

Suddhasheel Ghosh
Geoinformatics Division Indian Institute of Remote Sensing 4, Kalidas Road, Dehradun, India E-mail:

P. S. Roy
Indian Institute of Remote Sensing 4, Kalidas Road, Dehradun, India E-mail:

India has figured with two hotspots - the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas - in an identification of 8 hottest biodiversity hotspots (Myers et. al. 2000). The Meghalaya state (study area) in North Eastern India lies within the Indo-Burma area, which is one of the 8 hottest biodiversity hotspots. Timber extraction, the age-old practice of shifting cultivation and mining has been a major cause of extensive changes in this landscape. Human induced disturbance differs from natural disturbance especially in extension, severity and frequency. Spatial presentation of landscape dynamics can be used to infer disturbance regimes horizontally. Disturbance regimes are mostly dominated by landuse practices in Meghalaya and these landuse practices are important contributors for overall interpretation of ecological processes operating within the landscape. In this scenario, the development of models to study landscape dynamics using remote sensing and GIS would be of great importance to ecologists. In this paper, we make an attempt to characterize landscape dynamics using a decision tree based approach. The varying impacts of human interventions reflected in three zones at landscape level have been brought out in the present study. The physiographic zones of Meghalaya (viz. Garo hills, Khasi hills and Jaintia hills) manifest different landscape characteristics and present varying degree of degradation status. Garo hills, experiences maximum shifting cultivation and has shown highest dynamism in the study area followed by Jaintia and Khasi hills. Characterization of landscape dynamics is important in the perspective of decision makers and policy makers in order to prioritize conservation strategies, so that urgent and necessary action can be taken.

Advances in remote sensing and GIS have offered new opportunities for investigation at scales larger than in the past and contemporary research into processes and patterns occurring in the microcosm has reconfirmed the importance of small scales. It has led to a consequent enlargement of temporal scale which, in tracking back processes has allowed us to understand the environmental conditions of the past (Delcourt and Delcourt, 1988). The availability of data across scales has opened new possibilities for integrating patterns and processes, as recently stressed by Lubchenco et
Geocarto International, Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2004 Published by Geocarto International Centre, G.P.O. Box 4122, Hong Kong.

al. (1991). Satellite images can be considered as a very convenient tool to measure landscape patterns since they provide a digital mosaic of the spatial arrangement of land covers (Chuvieco, 1999, Coulson et al. 1990). There are three basic characteristics of landscapes that affect their diversity i.e. structure, function and dynamics. The structure is the most well understood element of landscapes. It is also the most obvious-nearly viewed in the form of different landforms, habitats, or vegetation types. The patch is the basic unit of the landscape structure. The characteristics of patches and the spatial relationships among patches are important components of the landscape (Lidicker,
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1995). The distribution of energy, material and species among patches differing in size, shape, abundance and configuration are particularly important to patterns in diversity at the landscape scale. The other two elements of landscapes go beyond description of spatial heterogeneity. Function is concerned with interactions among spatial elements of a landscape. Landscape dynamics includes characteristics of structure and function both in order to examine changes in pattern and processes over time. There are number of ways to consider landscape change, ranging from simple and readily interpretable, to more realistic (complicated) and less interpretable. The dynamics of a landscape depends on at least four major factors: Disturbance frequency Rate of recovery from disturbance The size and spatial extent of the disturbance events The size and spatial extent of the landscape Over the coming decades, the global effects of land use and land cover change (LUCC) may be as significant, or more so, than those associated with potential climate change. Unlike climate change per se, land use and cover change are known and undisputed aspects of global environmental change. The current study has been carried out under (LUCC) which is a programme element of the International GeosphereBiosphere Programme (IGBP). In the state of Meghalaya, which is selected for the present study, forested landscapes are altered due to clear felling, shifting cultivation, mining and encroachment or gradual degradation. The dynamics get reflected on the landscape pattern in the form of vertical and horizontal fragmentation. It is known that changes in area, shape and connectivity of the patches cause change in species richness, distribution and persistence of populations and probability of disturbance (Fahring and Merriam 1985; Franklin and Forman 1987, Freeman and Merriam 1986, Van Drop and Opdam 1987). In the present context of the study the term landscapes refer to the landforms of a region and its associated habitat at a scale of areas to many square kilometers. Most of the landscapes in Meghalaya have been influenced by human land use practices (shifting cultivation). Therefore the analysis of landscape elements and the dynamics has been considered useful to generate scientific basis for decision-making. The destruction of forests has altered the natural landscape of Meghalaya and this has resulted in fragmented landscape with poor species composition. This scenario has made it necessary to evolve effective landuse policy considering the socioeconomic setup of the region. Monitoring the landscape dynamics will help in doing the same effectively.

Study Area
Floristically Meghalaya is a part of Indo-Malayan realm. As per biogeographical classification of India (Rodgers and Panwar, 1988), it lies in zone 8, the North-East Zone. Out of the two separate Biota Province in this region, the area is situated in Province II i.e. Assam Hills. The area is rich in a

wide range of flora and fauna. The vegetation is very interesting having a mixture of Asiatic and Indian Peninsular elements. Meghalaya occupies a unique position in the North Eastern Himalayas. Most of the area is hilly and records the worlds highest rainfall along the Mawsynram belt. Many rare plants found here are confined to sacred groves, which are remnants of past climax vegetation and are almost untouched due to religious beliefs. This richness however is not of much significance to the rural inhabitants as it is not lucrative enough to uplift their economic status. Since more than 90 per cent of the forested areas fall in private or community lands, the richness of biodiversity in these areas outside the state owned lands cannot be regarded as permanent repositories. The chances of them being put under shifting cultivation are inherently predominant (Singh, 2001). This state has two national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries, the national parks covers an area of 267.48 km2 approx. These protected areas owned by the state forest department are diverse and support a large number of species, which are important with respect to biodiversity (Anonymous, 2002a). The state of Meghalaya, which earlier formed a part of Assam, came into existence on January 19, 1972. The state is a conglomeration of undulating hills mainly with an eastwest orientation, separating the valleys of Surma ravines, rivers and rivulets. The altitude ranges from 50-1,950 meters with the highest peak, the Shillong peak lying centrally in the plateau of Khasi hills. Geographically the area lies between geo-coordinates 25 0 00 N to 26 10 00 N and 89 45 00 E to 92 45 00 E covering an area of 22,429 km2 approximately. The state of Meghalaya comprises of seven districts viz. East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills, South Garo Hills, East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Ri-Bhoi. The Meghalaya plateau is a tableland, which is the eastward extension of the massive block of the Indian peninsular shield. It stands high above the south of Assam valley at an altitude varying between 610 m to 1,950 m. The western and northern faces are highly dissected. Geologically the state of Meghalaya is characterized by Archaean genesis complex. The soils are mostly lateritic in origin and vary from sandy loam, red loam to clay loam. The climate of this region differs from that of Brahmaputra valley mainly due to its high relief. The climate of central and eastern Meghalaya is conductive. The relatively low elevation of the Western Meghalaya is responsible for a fairly high temperature. The average rainfall in Western Meghalaya is 2,689 mm and in central part of Meghalaya an average annual rainfall is 7,196 mm but there is great variation of rainfall within this region from south to north. Mawsynram, where the highest rainfall in the world with 13,923 mm is located in southern part of Meghalaya (Anonymous, 2002a). The flora of Meghalaya is the richest in India, both in extent and in diversity of species. A prominent number of Angiosperms not reported from any other part of the country are present in Meghalaya State. A wide variety of timber species, medicinal plants, economically important plants and endemic plants are reported from this region. The

contiguous forest areas under Nokrek Biosphere Reserve and Balphakram National Park in the Garo hills are exceptionally biorich. Natural forests are the major source of medicinal plants. The medicinal plants of Meghalaya have been explored in some important pockets by a number of workers (Majumdar et al., 1979). Due to lack of systematic approach in the proper direction, the medicinal wealth of the state is either being destroyed as weed, firewood, timber, jhum cultivation or being over-exploited beyond regenerative limits. Large scale over exploitation has led to decrease in population of various orchids found here. Most of the species widely distributed in rich broad leaved forests of the plateau have been cleared and consequently sub-tropical pine forests have replaced it. Majority of the plants have become threatened mainly due to disturbances in natural habitats. Many rare and endangered species like Khasi Pitcher Plant Nepenthes khasiana is on the verge of extinction. The study area also supports diverse fauna like Elephas maximus, Panthera tigris, flying squirrel, hollock gibbon, leopard cat, pangolin, rhesus macaqu, porcupine and a wide variety of reptiles and birds (Anonymous, 2002a).

state of Meghalaya for the years 1980, 1989 and 2000 which was generated under the Landscape Dynamics and its impact on ecosystem composition project of the ISRO Geosphere Biosphere Program. The satellite image of 1980 was classified using the map prepared at North Eastern Council as baseline data, and the rest were prepared at Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehradun (IIRS) using visual interpretation techniques on 1:250,000 scale. Forest types of Meghalaya were standardized for landuse /landcover classification for all the three years into evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous, sub tropical pine, sal, bamboo, degraded, grasslands, shifting cultivation (Current Jhum/Abandoned Jhum) and agriculture & water. The classification based on the spectral characteristic recorded by the remote sensing satellite, and the areal extent of different categories of landuse/landcover mapped is shown as Fig. [1], Table [1].

Conceptual Framework and Methodology

The impetus for many of these modeling approaches originates within the needs of resource management, and the growing interest in managing larger landscapes. Often, simulation models are the only way to assess alternatives that cannot be tested under such real world conditions. Spatial processes and interactions, large land areas, and heterogeneity are explicit added focuses of landscape ecology (Pickett and Cadenasso, 1995, Turner, 1989). The concepts of vegetation change are based on the disturbance and succession, and the non-equilibrium nature of vegetation and ecosystems. Models were developed early as well by Gleason (1926) in the US, Ramensky (1924), and Tansley in England (1935). More recent approaches have recognised a more integrated view of succession, and include plant demographics (GlennLewin et al, 1992). Recent concepts of disturbance explicitly recognise the importance of stochasticity and variability in disturbance severity, spatial and temporal scale, and the integration of changing ecosystem processes, such as resource availability, with individual species responses to disturbance (Pickett and White, 1985). The recognition that these processes operate at varied spatial and temporal scales, that succession and disturbances can recur in ecological systems, and these interactions have consequences for varied trajectories of vegetation change, set the stage for modeling forest landscapes in realistic ways. In order to characterize landscape dynamics, not only do we require information about its current state but also information about its prior states. To charactertize the landscape dynamics we have simply tallied all the instances, on a cell by cell basis, based on the hypothesis that a cell changes its cover types over the time interval combined with a decision tree approach. The layers for landuse / landcover in Meghalaya are taken for years 1980, 1989 and 2000. These layers are

Landscape Dynamics
Landscape dynamics can be considered from a range of perspectives, from simple to complex. This perspective (change is a constant!) leads us to models of landscape change: Simple models of landscape change, focusing of first-order Markov processes a handy technique for detecting, analyzing, or simulating landscape change due to succession, disturbance regimes, and land use practice; extended models that can accommodate spatial dependencies, time lags and historical legacies, and other realistic complications. A land dynamics model also summarizes land cover changes studied using maps of different time periods (Tomar, 1998). Past studies in Landscape Dynamics have predominantly been centred around change detection methods. Joshi et al., 2002 have attempted to study the landscape dymanics to monitor habitat change for waterfowls through change detection. In comparison to the methodologies used in the above studies, this study presents a new approach and technique to characterize landscape dynamics. By the term characterization of landscape dynamics we mean the generation of a classified map for degrees of dynamism in the landscape, based on its changes over period of time. This map is generated based on the knowledge base and the vegetation type maps of the various time periods which are described below in methodology. The need for this characterization is felt in the fact that the study area is one of the hottest of the biodiversity hotspots and is facing severe human inflicted disturbances with unscientific agricultural practices, mining and timber extraction.

Data Used
Landuse / land cover layers which have been taken for the

Table 1

Landuse/Landcover Status in Meghalaya

Landuse/Landcover Evergreen Semievergreen Sal (Shorea robusta) Subtropical Pine Mixed Pine Degraded Pine Moist Mixed Decidous Bamboo Grassland Agriculture Current Jhum Abandoned Jhum Water

% Area 28.74 40.00 0.93 4.15 0.96 0.03 0.00 0.00 10.17 2.83 5.82 6.07 0.29

1980 Area in km2 6446.20 8971.95 209.65 931.63 215.63 6.48 0.00 0.00 2280.84 635.16 1306.48 1360.55 64.42

% Area 20.10 31.21 0.50 3.56 3.51 2.50 0.32 1.61 10.91 4.94 7.16 13.40 0.27

1989 Area in km2 4507.83 7001.11 112.72 799.49 787.76 561.38 71.17 360.21 2447.28 1107.57 1606.66 3004.64 61.19

% Area 14.73 26.58 0.45 1.27 4.80 1.27 0.27 0.87 16.37 4.38 6.15 22.59 0.27

2000 Area in km2 3304.49 5962.22 101.80 285.44 1077.22 283.81 59.46 195.05 3672.68 981.32 1378.66 5066.57 60.28

assigned suitable codes for each of the landuse classes. A model is formulated as follows: A pixel is associated a class a. Intact if it remains the same in all the three maps b. Least dynamic if it is affected within a domain of 20 yrs c. Less dynamic if it is affected within a domain of 10 yrs d. Moderately dynamic if it is affected in all the times of observation e. High dynamism if it is affected by shifting cultivation /Jhum within a span of 20 years f. Highly dynamic if it is affected by shifting cultivation/Jhum within a span of 10 yrs g. Very Highly dynamic if it is affected by shifting cultivation/Jhum within all the times of observation and if there is a possibility of changeover of the forest to permanent agriculture or degraded grasslands. Decision Tree The decision tree logic for customized Arc Macro Language (AML) programming is framed as in Fig. [3]. The layers are initially examined for changes in landuse / landcover classes and then subsequently for classes like current and abandoned shifting cultivation classes. Two separate temporary layers are framed from this. These layers are overlayed such that the shifting cultivation classes get higher weightage values than other classes. An AML program was written to generate the output.

Figure 1

Temporal Landuse/Landcover Maps of Meghalya

Figure 2

Decision tree approach for output map

Results and Discussion

The beauty of this decision tree approach

was that we could successfully isolate 7 classes representing different levels of dymanism accurately which brought out the variations between the physiographic zones of Meghalaya. The intact zone represents the areas which are totally undisturbed throughout the study period. The

Table 2 Landuse/Landcover Status for the Garo Hills

Landuse/Landcover Evergreen Semievergreen Subtropical Pine Mixed Pine Degraded Pine Moist Mixed Decidous Sal (Shorea robusta) Bamboo Grassland Abandoned Jhum Current Jhum Agriculture Water Total

% Area 10.23 64.86 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 2.57 0.00 0.08 8.43 7.45 6.26 0.12 100.00

1980 Area in km2 835.60 5297.04 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 209.65 0.00 6.65 688.08 608.82 511.37 9.78 8167.00

% Area 7.30 40.58 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.87 1.38 2.68 0.30 23.54 12.13 11.09 0.12 100.00

1989 Area in km2 596.49 3314.27 0.00 0.00 0.00 71.17 112.72 218.65 24.73 1922.64 991.03 905.52 9.79 8167.00

% Area 3.62 26.72 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.73 1.25 1.89 0.08 50.36 6.12 9.12 0.12 100.00

2000 Area in km2 295.52 2181.99 0.00 0.00 0.00 59.46 101.80 154.14 6.84 4112.80 500.10 744.56 9.79 8167.00

Figure 3 Concept of calculation in the decision model

study brought out that they occur mainly in Khasi hills (43.91%) followed by the Jaintia Hills (35.84%). In Garo Hills, only a small pocket i.e. Nokrek National Park and parts of Balapakram National Park have remained intact (about 21.27%). Very less and less dynamic landscapes occupied maximum area in the Khasi Hills (33.99%), followed by Jaintia Hills (27.91%) and Garo Hills (14.35%). Moderately dynamic landscapes also followed a similar trend (13.25%, 6.33% and 0.56% for Khasi, Jaintia and Garo respectively). The high, very high and extremely high dynamic landscapes, the maximum area is in Garo Hills (63.79%), followed by Jaintia Hills (29.8%) and Khasi Hills (8.82%) respectively as expected. This is due to the fact that shifting cultivation is most intensive in Garo Hills (56.48%) as observed from the Landuse/ Landcover map in 2000 (Fig [1], Table [2]). As mentioned earlier, the input data taken are the land use/land cover maps from 1980, 1989 and the year 2000. Table [1] show that there is a substantial degradation in the forest cover from the year 1980 to 2000. In Table [2], which shows the land use land cover status of the Garo

Hills in the year 1980, 1989 and 2000, we see that the area is largely affected by Jhum cultivation i.e. 15.88%, 35.67% & 56.48% respectively. Similarly from table 3 and table 4 we can see that there is a remarkable increase in the amount of grasslands as compared to Jhum cultivation, which may actually indicate the effects of environmental degradation due to limestone quarries and coal mines which were encountered during the field visit. Fig. [4] shows the output generated from the model developed in AML, at Indian Institute of Remote Sensing. A comparative analysis of the model and the vegetation type maps Fig. [1] and [4] shows that the areas of maximum disturbance are indeed the areas that are marked in red. The statistical analysis of the map (Table [5]) indicates that about 18% of the area is highly dynamic and needs immediate attention and remedial measures for the conservation / restoration of forest cover and biodiversity. The Nokrek peak of the Garo Hills is a rich source of varieties of Citrus (Anonymous, 2002b) and it can be easily deduced from the map that if conservation or protection measures are not immediately made, this important biodiversity hotspot may be lost. Similarly, the parts of Khasi Hills and southern parts of Jaintia Hills which houses the Saipung and Narpuh Reserve Forests also need to be conserved. The forest areas not owned by Government are mainly owned as community land. In order to declare such areas as protected, Government has to purchase the land from the community by providing them the compensation in one or other

Table 3

Landuse/Landcover Status for the Khasi Hills

Landuse/Landcover Evergreen Semievergreen Subtropical Pine Mixed Pine Degraded Pine Moist Mixed Decidous Sal (Shorea robusta) Bamboo Grassland Abandoned Jhum Current Jhum Agriculture Water Total

% Area 36.19 32.58 5.35 2.03 0.06 0.00 0.00 0.00 10.31 5.56 6.28 1.18 0.46 100.00

1980 Area in km2 3779.28 3402.42 559.01 211.96 6.48 0.00 0.00 0.00 1076.30 580.57 656.06 122.82 48.10 10443.00

% Area 26.35 30.15 4.98 3.78 2.74 0.00 0.00 0.81 14.09 9.51 5.37 1.78 0.43 100.00

1989 Area in km2 2751.67 3148.86 519.89 395.04 286.47 0.00 0.00 84.98 1471.72 992.95 561.10 185.44 44.87 10443.00

% Area 19.17 32.06 1.03 5.57 0.78 0.00 0.00 0.39 22.69 8.15 7.65 2.10 0.42 100.00

2000 Area in km2 2001.65 3348.04 107.33 581.42 81.38 0.00 0.00 40.76 2369.70 850.87 798.58 219.21 44.06 10443.00

Figure 4

Map depicting Landscape Dynamics Characterization in Meghalaya

terms. (Nongseij and Sangma, 2002). Since the inhabitants are mostly shifting cultivators jhumias, large areas have been cleared and used for shifting cultivation. Due to loss of soil fertility, jhuming has become less productive. Though inhabitants are getting the basic needs without much disturbance, but, if the jhuming shifting cultivation continues with the same rate, this will severely affect the biodiversity of the study area. The shortening of shifting cultivation / Jhum cycle from 15-20 years to 4-5 years has put tremendous pressure on the forrest of Meghalaya and is responsible for disappearance of a fairly large number of endemic species from this area.

The impact of landscape dynamics on forests is significant and its study is crucial for their maintenance. The three physiographic zones of Meghalaya (viz. Garo Hills, Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills) manifest different landscape characteristics. They also present different degrees of degradation status. The varying impacts of human interventions

reflected in three zones at landscape level have been brought out in the present study. In this study, highest landcover dynamics have been observed in Garo Hills showing more alterations in the landscape during the study period. Garo Hills experiences maximum shifting cultivation (15.88%, 35.67%, 56.48% for the years 1980, 1989 and 2000 respectively) and has shown highest dynamism in the study area (63.805% of the area is seen to be dynamic on the higher side) Table [5]. Shifting cultivation is also practiced in the high altitudes of the Khasi hills and the Jaintia Hills, however the cooler climate of the higher altitudes is not conducive for the rapid regrowth of vegetation in the fallows which have resulted in large tracts of grasslands / degraded pine in these landscapes. The landscapes in these regions are thus found to be less to moderately dynamic (47.28% and 34.26% respectively for Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills). The forest of the State is either being destroyed for firewood, timber, jhum cultivation or being over-exploited beyond limits of regeneration. Biodiversity rich forested areas in the private/community lands could turn to barren grasslands within a year or two, as the owners have their right to use their land in any manner they find suitable, as safeguarded in schedule VI of the constitution of India. This richness however is not of much significance to the rural inhabitants as it is not lucrative enough to uplift their economic status. Since more than 90% of the forested areas fall in private or community lands, the richness of these areas outside the state owned

Table 4

Landuse/Landcover Status in Jaintia Hills

Vegetation type Evergreen Semievergreen Subtropical Pine Mixed Pine Degraded Pine Moist Mixed Decidous Sal (Shorea robusta) Bamboo Grassland Abandoned Jhum Current Jhum Agriculture Water Total

1980 % Area 47.95 7.14 9.76 0.10 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 31.37 2.41 1.09 0.03 0.17 100.00 Area in km 1831.33 272.49 372.61 3.67 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 1197.88 91.91 41.60 0.97 6.54 3819.00

1989 % Area 30.37 14.09 7.32 10.28 7.20 0.00 0.00 1.48 24.90 2.33 1.43 0.43 0.17 100.00 Area in km 1159.68 537.98 279.60 392.71 274.91 0.00 0.00 56.58 950.82 89.04 54.53 16.60 6.54 3819.00

2000 % Area 26.38 11.32 4.66 12.98 5.30 0.00 0.00 0.00 33.94 2.69 2.09 0.46 0.17 100.00 Area in km2 1007.32 432.19 178.11 495.81 202.43 0.00 0.00 0.14 1296.13 102.90 79.98 17.55 6.43 3819.00

Table 5

Status of Landscape Dynamics characterization within the physiographic regions and in Meghalaya State.

Status Intact Very Less Less Moderate High Very High Extremely High

GARO HILLS % Area 21.2718 11.7015 2.65593 0.56387 25.7218 31.9194 6.16573 100 Km 1737.27 955.658 216.909 46.0511 2100.7 2606.86 503.555 8167

KHASI HILLS % Area 43.9141 26.5683 7.43683 13.2555 8.16067 0.65492 0.00974 100 km 4585.95 2774.53 776.628 1384.27 852.219 68.3935 1.01763 10443

JAINTIA HILLS % Area 35.8405 23.9497 3.97745 6.3345 19.4036 8.56863 1.92556 100 km 1368.75 914.64 151.899 241.914 741.023 327.236 73.537 3819

MEGHALAYA % Area 31.883 19.9174 4.0792 5.39575 19.8121 15.7618 3.1508 100 Km 7691.97 4644.83 1145.44 1672.23 3693.94 3002.49 578.109 22429

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