The Warren River Catchment of south-western Australia is an area of high biodiversity threatened by the loss of native vegetation and dryland salinity. Over the last 20 years, it has been the target of a series of policies that encourage conversion of agricultural land to plantation forest. Remote sensing has a key role in measuring trends in the area of plantation forest observed across the landscape and hence the effectiveness of policy initiatives. Despite its importance to land use policy, accurate data on historical land use and land cover (LULC) dynamics of two spectrally similar but ecologically distinct forest types – such as native forest and plantation forest – are not readily available for south-western Australia, largely due to prohibitive data delivery costs. However, we argue that regular low-cost monitoring of long-term change in the spatial distribution of plantation forest through remote sensing is a critical input into environmental policy for the catchment. To this end, a 35-year time-series of Landsat imagery was acquired, and three different classifiers were tested (Support Vector Machines – SVM; Random Forests – RF; and Classification and Regression Trees – CART) on spectral and textural indices applied to four spectral bands. The six major LULC classes considered were agriculture, water, native forest, sand dunes, plantation forest and harvested native forest. In classifying the imagery the SVM and RF outperformed the CART across all classes. However, the SVM classifier gave a slightly higher F-score for most individual classes than the RF. Eucalypt dominated plantation forest reaching full canopy cover was subject to the highest rates of misclassification inasmuch as it shares spectral properties with the Eucalypt dominant native forest. When applied to Landsat time-series imagery, SVM classifier combined with four bands held in common between the four Landsat sensors, and derived textures metrics are valuable in classifying plantation and native forest, particularly where these have a similar species composition. The differences in prediction accuracy when including additional Landsat bands were not statistically significant, as demonstrated by the McNemar test. Thus, we achieved a trade-off in reducing processing time without significantly impacting on classification accuracy (≥86%). The relatively high accuracy of the proposed method enables the effects of past policy initiatives to be observed, and hence the efficient design of environmental and conservation policy in the future.
Nery de Figueiredo, T., Sadler, R., Solis Aulestia, M. J., White, B., & Polyakov, M. (2019). Discriminating native and plantation forests in a Landsat time-series for land use policy design. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 40(11), 4059-4082. https://doi.org/10.1080/01431161.2018.1558375