Tree Species Classification in a Temperate Mixed Mountain Forest Landscape Using Random Forest and Multiple Datasets


For monitoring protected forest landscapes over time it is essential to follow changes in tree species composition and forest dynamics. Data driven remote sensing methods provide valuable options if terrestrial approaches for forest inventories and monitoring activities cannot be applied efficiently due to restrictions or the size of the study area. We demonstrate how species can be detected at a single tree level utilizing a Random Forest (RF) model using the Black Forest National Park as an example of a Central European forest landscape with complex relief. The classes were European silver fir (Abies alba, AA), Norway spruce (Picea abies, PA), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris, PS), European larch (Larix decidua including Larix kampferii, LD), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii, PM), deciduous broadleaved species (DB) and standing dead trees (snags, WD). Based on a multi-temporal (leaf-on and leaf-off phenophase) and multi-spectral mosaic (R-G-B-NIR) with 10 cm spatial resolution, digital elevation models (DTM, DSM, CHM) with 40 cm spatial resolution and a LiDAR dataset with 25 pulses per m2, 126 variables were derived and used to train the RF algorithm with 1130 individual trees. The main objective was to determine a subset of meaningful variables for the RF model classification on four heterogeneous test sites. Using feature selection techniques, mainly passive optical variables from the leaf-off phenophase were considered due to their ability to differentiate between conifers and the two broader classes. An examination of the two phenological phases (using the difference of the respective NDVIs) is important to clearly distinguish deciduous trees from other classes including snags (WD). We also found that the variables of the first derivation of NIR and the tree metrics play a crucial role in discriminating PA und PS. With this unique set of variables some classes can be differentiated more reliably, especially LD and DB but also AA, PA and WD, whereas difficulties exist in identifying PM and PS. Overall, the non-parametric object-based approach has proved to be highly suitable for accurately detecting (OA: 89.5%) of the analyzed classes. Finally, the successful classification of complex 265 km2 study area substantiates our findings.

Tree Species Classification in a Temperate Mixed Mountain Forest Landscape Using Random Forest and Multiple Datasets
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Rafael Hologa
Research associate

My research interests are the Crowdsourcing of Volunteered Geographic Informations (VGI) & Harvesting Ambient Geospaial Informations (AGI) relating to perceptions of weather parameters in the context of open science and citizen science initiatives.