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Mapping individual tree location, height and species in broadleaved deciduous forest using airborne LIDAR and multi‐spectral remotely sensed data

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Automated feature extraction based on prototypes is only partially successful when applied to remotely sensed imagery of natural scenes due to the complexity and unpredictability of the shape and geometry of natural features. Here, a new method is developed for extracting the locations of treetops by applying GIS (Geographical Information System) overlay techniques and morphological functions to high spatial resolution airborne imagery. This method is based on the geometrical and spatial properties of tree crowns. Airborne data of the study site in the New Forest, UK included colour aerial photographs, LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) and ATM (Airborne Thematic Mapper) imagery. A DEM (Digital Elevation Model) was generated from LIDAR data and then subtracted from the original LIDAR image to create a Canopy Height Model (CHM). A set of procedures using image contouring and the manipulation of the resulting polygons was implemented to extract treetops from the aerial photographs and the CHM. Criteria were developed and threshold values were set using a supervised approach for the acceptance or rejection of features based on field knowledge. Tree species were mapped by classifying the ATM data and these data were co-registered with the treetop layer. For broadleaved deciduous plantations the success of treetop extraction using aerial photographs was 91%, but was much lower using LIDAR data. For semi-natural forests, the LIDAR produced better results than the aerial photographs with a success of 80%, which was considered high, given the complexity of these uneven aged stands. The methodology presented here is easy to apply as it is implemented within a GIS and the final product is an accurate map with information about the location, height and species of each tree.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0143116042000298289

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YB, UK, Email: alan.blackburn@lancaster.ac.uk

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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