Cici Alexander

Classification of vegetation in an open landscape using full-waveform airborne laser scanner data

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  • Cici Alexander
  • Balázs Deák, Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg, MTA-DE Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Research Group
  • ,
  • Adam Kania, Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg, Technische Universitat Wien, ATMOTERM S.A.
  • ,
  • Werner Mücke, Technische Universitat Wien
  • ,
  • Hermann Heilmeier, Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg

Airborne laser scanning (ALS) is increasingly being used for the mapping of vegetation, although the focus so far has been on woody vegetation, and ALS data have only rarely been used for the classification of grassland vegetation. In this study, we classified the vegetation of an open alkali landscape, characterized by two Natura 2000 habitat types: Pannonic salt steppes and salt marshes and Pannonic loess steppic grasslands. We generated 18 variables from an ALS dataset collected in the growing (leaf-on) season. Elevation is a key factor determining the patterns of vegetation types in the landscape, and hence 3 additional variables were based on a digital terrain model (DTM) generated from an ALS dataset collected in the dormant (leaf-off) season. We classified the vegetation into 24 classes based on these 21 variables, at a pixel size of 1m. Two groups of variables with and without the DTM-based variables were used in a Random Forest classifier, to estimate the influence of elevation, on the accuracy of the classification. The resulting classes at Level 4, based on associations, were aggregated at three levels - Level 3 (11 classes), Level 2 (8 classes) and Level 1 (5 classes) - based on species pool, site conditions and structure, and the accuracies were assessed. The classes were also aggregated based on Natura 2000 habitat types to assess the accuracy of the classification, and its usefulness for the monitoring of habitat quality. The vegetation could be classified into dry grasslands, wetlands, weeds, woody species and man-made features, at Level 1, with an accuracy of 0.79 (Cohen's kappa coefficient, κ). The accuracies at Levels 2-4 and the classification based on the Natura 2000 habitat types were κ: 0.76, 0.61, 0.51 and 0.69, respectively. Levels 1 and 2 provide suitable information for nature conservationists and land managers, while Levels 3 and 4 are especially useful for ecologists, geologists and soil scientists as they provide high resolution data on species distribution, vegetation patterns, soil properties and on their correlations. Including the DTM-based variables increased the accuracy (κ) from 0.73 to 0.79 for Level 1. These findings show that the structural and spectral attributes of ALS echoes can be used for the classification of open landscapes, especially those where vegetation is influenced by elevation, such as coastal salt marshes, sand dunes, karst or alluvial areas; in these cases, ALS has a distinct advantage over other remotely sensed data.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Pages (from-to)76-87
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Grasslands, Habitat mapping, LiDAR, Micro-topography, Natura 2000

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