UAS Imagery-Based Mapping of Coarse Wood Debris in a Natural Deciduous Forest in Central Germany (Hainich National Park)
Dead wood such as coarse dead wood debris (CWD) is an important component in natural forests since it increases the diversity of plants, fungi, and animals. It serves as habitat, provides nutrients and is conducive to forest regeneration, ecosystem stabilization and soil protection. In commercially operated forests, dead wood is often unwanted as it can act as an originator of calamities. Accordingly, efficient CWD monitoring approaches are needed. However, due to the small size of CWD objects
... ize of CWD objects satellite data-based approaches cannot be used to gather the needed information and conventional ground-based methods are expensive. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are becoming increasingly important in the forestry sector since structural and spectral features of forest stands can be extracted from the high geometric resolution data they produce. As such, they have great potential in supporting regular forest monitoring and inventory. Consequently, the potential of UAS imagery to map CWD is investigated in this study. The study area is located in the center of the Hainich National Park (HNP) in the federal state of Thuringia, Germany. The HNP features natural and unmanaged forest comprising deciduous tree species such as Fagus sylvatica (beech), Fraxinus excelsior (ash), Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple), and Carpinus betulus (hornbeam). The flight campaign was controlled from the Hainich eddy covariance flux tower located at the Eastern edge of the test site. Red-green-blue (RGB) image data were captured in March 2019 during leaf-off conditions using off-the-shelf hardware. Agisoft Metashape Pro was used for the delineation of a three-dimensional (3D) point cloud, which formed the basis for creating a canopy-free RGB orthomosaic and mapping CWD. As heavily decomposed CWD hardly stands out from the ground due to its low height, it might not be detectable by means of 3D geometric information. For this reason, solely RGB data were used for the classification of CWD. The mapping task was accomplished using a line extraction approach developed within the object-based image analysis (OBIA) software eCognition. The achieved CWD detection accuracy can compete with results of studies utilizing high-density airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR)-based point clouds. Out of 180 CWD objects, 135 objects were successfully delineated while 76 false alarms occurred. Although the developed OBIA approach only utilizes spectral information, it is important to understand that the 3D information extracted from our UAS data is a key requirement for successful CWD mapping as it provides the foundation for the canopy-free orthomosaic created in an earlier step. We conclude that UAS imagery is an alternative to laser data in particular if rapid update and quick response is required. We conclude that UAS imagery is an alternative to laser data for CWD mapping, especially when a rapid response and quick reaction, e.g., after a storm event, is required.