Comparative assessment of methods for estimating tree canopy cover across a rural-to-urban gradient in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA
- Download PDF (1.0 MB)
- This publication is available only online.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 188: 297. 17 p.
Tree canopy cover significantly affects human and wildlife habitats, local hydrology, carbon cycles, fire behavior, and ecosystem services of all types. In addition, changes in tree canopy cover are both indicators and consequences of a wide variety of disturbances from urban development to climate change. There is growing demand for this information nationwide and across all land uses. The extensive inventory plot system managed by the USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) offers a unique opportunity for acquiring unbiased tree canopy cover information across broad areas. However, the estimates it produces had not yet been examined for comparative accuracy with other sources. In this study, we compared four different methods readily available and with significant potential for application over broad areas. The first two, field-collected and photointerpreted, are currently acquired by FIA on approximately 44,000 plots annually nationwide. The third method is a stem-mapping approach that models tree canopy cover from variables regularly measured on forested plots and is efficient enough to calculate nationwide. The fourth is a Geographic-Object-Based Image Analysis (GEOBIA) approach that uses both highresolution imagery and leaf-off LiDAR data and has reported very high accuracies and spatial detail at state-wide levels of application. Differences in the spatial and temporal resolution and coverage of these four datasets suggest that they could provide complementary information if their relationships could be better understood. Plot- and county-level estimates of tree canopy cover derived from each of the four data sources were compared for 11 counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia across a range of urbanization levels. We found high levels of systematic agreement between field and photointerpreted, stem-mapped and field, photointerpreted and GEOBIA estimates. In several cases, the relationship changed with the level of tree canopy cover. GEOBIA produced the highest tree cover estimates of all the methods compared. Results are discussed with respect to known differences between the methods and ground conditions found in both forest and nonforest areas.
KeywordsTree canopy cover Object-based image analysis Accuracy Comparative assessment Forest inventory
Riemann, Rachel; Liknes, Greg; O'Neil-Dunne, Jarlath; Toney, Chris; Lister, Tonya. 2016. Comparative assessment of methods for estimating tree canopy cover across a rural-to-urban gradient in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 188: 297. 17 p. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-016-5281-8.