Tree species identification in mixed coniferous forest using airborne laser scanning

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60 Scopus citations


This study tests the capacity of relatively low density (<1 return/m2) airborne laser scanner data for discriminating between Douglas-fir, western larch, ponderosa pine, and lodgepole pine in a western North American montane forest and it evaluates the relative importance of intensity, height, and return type metrics for classifying tree species. Collectively, Exploratory Data Analysis, Pearson Correlation, ANOVA, and Linear Discriminant Analysis show that structural and intensity characteristics generated from LIDAR data are useful for classifying species at dominant and individual tree levels in multi-aged, mixed conifer forests. Proportions of return types and mean intensities are significantly different between species (p-value < 0.001) for plot-level dominant species and individual trees. Classification accuracies based on single variables range from 49%-61% at the dominant species level and 37%-52% for individual trees. The accuracy can be improved to 95% and 68% respectively by using multiple variables. The inclusion of proportion of return type greatly improves the classification accuracy at the dominant species level, but not for individual trees, while canopy height improves the accuracy at both levels. Overall differences in intensity and return type between species largely reflect variations in the physical structure of trees and stands. These results are consistent with the findings of others and point to airborne laser scanning as a useful source of data for species classification. However, there are still many knowledge gaps that prevent accurate mapping of species using ALS data alone, particularly with relatively sparse datasets like the one used in this study. Further investigations using other datasets in different forest types will likely result in improvements to species identification and mapping for some time to come.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-693
Number of pages11
JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Conifer
  • Intensity
  • Laser scanning
  • North America
  • Tree species


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