Distinguishing forest types in restored tropical landscapes with UAV-borne LIDAR
Scheeres, Janneke; de Jong, Johan; Brede, Benjamin; Brancalion, Pedro H.S.; Broadbent, Eben Noth; Zambrano, Angelica Maria Almeyda; Gorgens, Eric Bastos; Silva, Carlos Alberto; Valbuena, Ruben; Molin, Paulo; Stark, Scott; Rodrigues, Ricardo Ribeiro; Santoro, Giulio Brossi; Resende, Angélica Faria; de Almeida, Catherine Torres; de Almeida, Danilo Roberti Alves
Forest landscape restoration is a global priority to mitigate negative effects of climate change, conserve biodiversity, and ensure future sustainability of forests, with international pledges concentrated in tropical forest regions. To hold restoration efforts accountable and monitor their outcomes, traditional strategies for monitoring tree cover increase by field surveys are falling short, because they are labor-intensive and costly. Meanwhile remote sensing approaches have not been able to distinguish different forest types that result from utilizing different restoration approaches (conservation versus production focus). Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors can observe forests` vertical and horizontal structural variation, which has the potential to distinguish forest types. In this study, we explored this potential of UAV-borne LiDAR to distinguish forest types in landscapes under restoration in southeastern Brazil by using a supervised classification method. The study area encompassed 150 forest plots with six forest types divided in two forest groups: conservation (remnant forests, natural regrowth, and active restoration plantings) and production (monoculture, mixed, and abandoned plantations) forests. UAV-borne LiDAR data was used to extract several Canopy Height Model (CHM), voxel, and point cloud statistic based metrics at a high resolution for analysis. Using a random forest classification model we could successfully classify conservation and production forests (90% accuracy). Classification of the entire set of six types was less accurate (62%) and the confusion matrix showed a divide between conservation and production types. Understory Leaf Area Index (LAI) and the variation in vegetation density in the upper half of the canopy were the most important classification metrics. In particular, LAI understory showed the most variation, and may help advance ecological understanding in restoration. The difference in classification success underlines the difficulty of distinguishing individual forest types that are very similar in management, regeneration dynamics, and structure. In a restoration context, we showed the ability of UAV-borne LiDAR to identify complex forest structures at a plot scale and identify groups and types widely distributed across different restored landscapes with medium to high accuracy. Future research may explore a fusion of UAV-borne LiDAR with optical sensors, and include successional stages in the analyses to further characterize and distinguish forest types and their contributions to landscape restoration.