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Fine-Scale Mapping of Coastal Plant Communities in the Northeastern USA

Correll, Maureen D., Hantson, Wouter, Hodgman, Thomas P., Cline, Brittany B., Elphick, Chris S., Gregory Shriver, W., Tymkiw, Elizabeth L., Olsen, Brian J.
Wetlands 2019 v.39 no.1 pp. 17-28
anthropogenic stressors, coastal plant communities, coasts, ecosystems, habitats, hydrology, inventories, landscapes, models, planning, remote sensing, salinity, salt marshes, Maine, Virginia
Salt marshes of the northeastern United States are dynamic landscapes where the tidal flooding regime creates patterns of plant zonation based on differences in elevation, salinity, and local hydrology. These patterns of zonation can change quickly due to both natural and anthropogenic stressors, making tidal marshes vulnerable to degradation and loss. We compared several remote sensing techniques to develop a tool that accurately maps high- and low-marsh zonation to use in management and conservation planning for this ecosystem in the northeast USA. We found that random forests (RF) outperformed other classifier tools when applied to the most recent National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery, NAIP derivatives, and elevation data between coastal Maine and Virginia, USA. We then used RF methods to classify plant zonation within a 500-m buffer around coastal marsh delineated in the National Wetland Inventory. We found mean classification accuracies of 94% for high marsh, 76% for low marsh zones, and 90% overall map accuracy. The detailed output is a 3-m resolution continuous map of tidal marsh vegetation communities and cover classes that can be used in habitat modeling of marsh-obligate species or to monitor changes in marsh plant communities over time.