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Predicting temperate forest stand types using only structural profiles from discrete return airborne lidar

Fedrigo, Melissa, Newnham, Glenn J., Coops, Nicholas C., Culvenor, Darius S., Bolton, Douglas K., Nitschke, Craig R.
ISPRS journal of photogrammetry and remote sensing 2018 v.136 pp. 106-119
Eucalyptus, algorithms, ecosystems, forest canopy, forest stands, highlands, landscapes, lidar, models, prediction, probability, rain forests, remote sensing, stand structure, temperate forests, Australia
Light detection and ranging (lidar) data have been increasingly used for forest classification due to its ability to penetrate the forest canopy and provide detail about the structure of the lower strata. In this study we demonstrate forest classification approaches using airborne lidar data as inputs to random forest and linear unmixing classification algorithms. Our results demonstrated that both random forest and linear unmixing models identified a distribution of rainforest and eucalypt stands that was comparable to existing ecological vegetation class (EVC) maps based primarily on manual interpretation of high resolution aerial imagery. Rainforest stands were also identified in the region that have not previously been identified in the EVC maps. The transition between stand types was better characterised by the random forest modelling approach. In contrast, the linear unmixing model placed greater emphasis on field plots selected as endmembers which may not have captured the variability in stand structure within a single stand type. The random forest model had the highest overall accuracy (84%) and Cohen’s kappa coefficient (0.62). However, the classification accuracy was only marginally better than linear unmixing. The random forest model was applied to a region in the Central Highlands of south-eastern Australia to produce maps of stand type probability, including areas of transition (the ‘ecotone’) between rainforest and eucalypt forest. The resulting map provided a detailed delineation of forest classes, which specifically recognised the coalescing of stand types at the landscape scale. This represents a key step towards mapping the structural and spatial complexity of these ecosystems, which is important for both their management and conservation.