The multispectral separability of Costa Rican rainforest types with support vector machines and Random Forest decision trees

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Abstract:

Estimating the extent of tropical rainforest types is needed for biodiversity assessment and carbon accounting. In this study, we used statistical comparisons to determine the ability of Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) bands and spectral vegetation indices to discriminate composition and structural types. A total of 144 old-growth forest plots established in northern Costa Rica were categorized via cluster analysis and ordination. Locations for palm swamps, forest regrowth and tree plantations were also acquired, making 11 forest types for separability analysis. Forest types classified using support vector machines (SVM), a theoretically superior method for solving complex classification problems, were compared with the random forest decision tree classifier (RF). Separability comparisons demonstrate that spectral data are sensitive to differences among forest types when tree species and structural similarity is low. SVM class accuracy was 66.6% for all forest types, minimally higher than the RF classifier (65.3%). TM bands and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) combined with digital elevation data notably increased accuracies for SVM (84.3%) and RF (86.7%) classifiers. Rainforest types discriminated here are typically limited to one or two categories for remote sensing classifications. Our results indicate that TM bands and ancillary data combined via machine learning algorithms can yield accurate and ecologically meaningful rainforest classifications important to national and international forest monitoring protocols.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01431160903140803

Affiliations: 1: Department of Forest Resources, PO Box 441133, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA,Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE), Turriabla, Costa Rica 2: Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE), Turriabla, Costa Rica 3: Department of Forest Resources, PO Box 441133, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA,Geospatial Laboratory for Environmental Dynamics, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA 4: Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), Helsinki, Finland

Publication date: April 1, 2010

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