Nationwide native forest structure maps for Argentina based on forest inventory data, SAR Sentinel-1 and vegetation metrics from Sentinel-2 imagery

Detailed maps of forest structure attributes are crucial for sustainable forest management, conservation, and forest ecosystem science at the landscape level. Mapping the structure of broad heterogeneous forests is chal lenging, but the integration of extensive field inventory plots with wall-to-wall metrics derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and optical remote sensing offers a potential solution. Our goal was to map forest structure attributes (diameter at breast height, basal area, mean height, dominant height, wood volume and canopy cover) at 30-m resolution across the diverse 463,000 km2 of native forests of Argentina based on SAR Sentinel-1, vegetation metrics from Sentinel-2 and geographic coordinates. We modelled the forest structure attributes based on the latest national forest inventory, generated uncertainty maps, quantified the contribution of the predictors, and compared our height predictions with those from GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics tion) and GFCH (Global Forest Canopy Height). We analyzed 3788 forest inventory plots (1000 m2 each) from Argentina’s Second Native Forest Inventory (2015–2020) to develop predictive random forest regression models. From Sentinel-1, we included both VV (vertical transmitted and received) and VH (vertical transmitted and horizontal received) polarizations and calculated 1st and 2nd order textures within 3 ×3 pixels to match the size of the inventory plots. For Sentinel-2, we derived EVI (enhanced vegetation index), calculated DHIs (dynamic habitat indices (annual cumulative, minimum and variation) and the EVI median, then generated 1st and 2nd order textures within 3 ×3 pixels of these variables. Our models including metrics from Sentinel-1 and 2, plus latitude and longitude predicted forest structure attributes well with root mean square errors (RMSE) ranging from 23.8% to 70.3%. Mean and dominant height models had notably good performance presenting relatively low RMSE (24.5% and 23.8%, respectively). Metrics from VH polarization and longitude were overall the most important predictors, but optimal predictors differed among the different forest structure attributes. Height predictions (r =0.89 and 0.85) outperformed those from GEDI (r =0.81) and the GFCH (r =0.66), suggesting that SAR Sentinel-1, DHIs from Sentinel-2 plus geographic coordinates provide great opportunities to map multiple forest structure attributes for large areas. Based on our models, we generated spatially-explicit maps of multiple forest structure attributes as well as uncertainty maps at 30-m spatial resolution for all Argentina’s native forest areas in support of forest management and conservation planning across the country.

File: RSE_Silveira_2022.pdf

Scalable Semiparametric Spatio-temporal Regression for Large Data Analysis

With the rapid advances of data acquisition techniques, spatio-temporal data are becoming increasingly abundant in a diverse array of disciplines. Here, we develop spatio-temporal regression methodology for analyzing large amounts of spatially referenced data collected over time, motivated by environmental studies utilizing remotely sensed satellite data. In particular, we specify a semiparametric autoregressive model without the usual Gaussian assumption and devise a computationally scalable procedure that enables the regression analysis of large datasets. We estimate the model parameters by maximum pseudolikelihood and show that the computational complexity can be reduced from cubic to linear of the sample size. Asymptotic properties under suitable regularity conditions are further established that inform the computational procedure to be efficient and scalable. A simulation study is conducted to evaluate the finite-sample properties of the parameter estimation and statistical inference. We illustrate our methodology by a dataset with over 2.96 million observations of annual land surface temperature, and comparison with an existing state-of-the-art approach to spatio-temporal regression highlights the advantages of our method.

File: f82f99f6-d89f-4d31-82ae-201daaf36574.pdf

Localized versus wide-ranging effects of the post-Soviet wars in the Caucasus on agricultural abandonment

Wars are frequent and can affect land use substantially, but the effects of wars can vary greatly depending on their characteristics, such as intensity or duration. Furthermore, the spatial scale of the effects can differ. The effects of wars may be localized and thus close to conflict locations if direct mechanisms matter most (e.g., abandonment because active fighting precludes farming), or wide-ranging, e.g., farther away from conflict locations, if indirect mechanisms predominate (e.g., no access to agricultural inputs). Our goal was to quantify how the very different wars in the Caucasus region during post-Soviet times most likely affected agricultural abandonment at different scales. We analyzed data on conflict locations plus Landsat-derived land-cover data from 1987 to 2015, and applied matching statistics, difference-in-differences estimators, and logistic panel regressions. We examined the localized versus wide-ranging effects of the different wars on permanent agricultural abandonment and inferred to direct and indirect mechanisms that may have resulted in agricultural abandonment. While permanent agricultural abandonment was overall surprisingly limited across the Caucasus, up to one third of abandonment was most likely related to the wars. Among the wars, the war in Chechnya was by far the most intense and longest, but its effect on abandonment was similar to the less intense and relatively short war in Abkhazia. 47 % and 45 % of agricultural abandonment was related to each war, respectively. The reason was that the effect of the war in Chechnya was more localized, and abandonment occurred near conflict locations, in contrast to Abkhazia, where the effect was wide-ranging and abandonment occurred farther away from conflict locations. In contrast, the war in South Ossetia showed no significant effect on abandonment, and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh had the surprising pattern that abandonment was higher where no war had occurred. For each of the wars, abandonment was predominately related to the nearest conflict locations, but in Abkhazia additional conflict locations within 10 km further increased the probability of abandonment. We infer that the direct mechanisms of the war such as bombing, and active fighting most likely resulted in a localized effect close to conflict locations in Chechnya and in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in Nagorno-Karabakh subsidies for new settlers after the war, (i.e., a positive wide-ranging effect), potentially reduced the amount of abandonment there. In contrast, negative wide-ranging effects such as refugee movements and post-war restrictions on their return is related to broad-scale abandonment in Abkhazia. In summary, permanent agricultural abandonment was not necessarily higher in a war with a high overall intensity. Instead, the effect of a given war varied in scale, and was related to the relative importance of direct and localized versus indirect and wide-ranging mechanisms, including postwar events and policies, which is likely the case for other wars, too.

File: 1-s2.0-S0959378022001182-main.pdf

Mapping Soil Organic Carbon Content in Patagonian Forests Based on Climate, Topography and Vegetation Metrics from Satellite Imagery

Soil organic carbon (SOC) content supports several ecosystem services. Quantifying SOC requires: (i) accurate C estimates of forest components, and (ii) soil estimates. However, SOC is difficult to measure, so predictive models are needed. Our objective was to model SOC stocks within 30 cm depth in Patagonian forests based on climatic, topographic and vegetation productivity measures from satellite images, including Dynamic Habitat Indices and Land Surface Temperature derived from Landsat-8. We used data from 1320 stands of different forest types in Patagonia, and random forest regression to map SOC. The model captured SOC variability well (R2 = 0.60, RMSE = 22.1%), considering the huge latitudinal extension (36.4deg to 55.1deg SL) and the great diversity of forest types. Mean SOC was 134.4 ton C ha-1 +/- 25.2, totaling 404.2 million ton C across Patagonia. Overall, SOC values were highest in valleys of the Andes mountains and in southern Tierra del Fuego, ranging from 53.5 to 277.8 ton C ha-1 for the whole Patagonia region. Soil organic carbon is a metric relevant to many applications, connecting major issues such as forest management, conservation, and livestock production, and having spatially explicit estimates of SOC enables managers to fulfil the international agreements that Argentina has joined.

File: Martinez-Pastur-et-al_remotesensing-14-05702.pdf

Rural land abandonment is too ephemeral to provide major benefits for biodiversity and climate

Hundreds of millions of hectares of cropland have been abandoned globally since 1950 due to demographic, economic, and environmental changes. This abandonment has been seen as an important opportunity for carbon sequestration and habitat restoration; yet those benefits depend on the persistence of abandonment, which is poorly known. Here, we track abandonment and recultivation at 11 sites across four continents using annual land-cover maps for 1987–2017. We find that abandonment is largely fleeting, lasting on average only 14.22 years (SD = 1.44). At most sites, we project that >50% of abandoned croplands will be recultivated within 30 years, precluding the accumulation of substantial amounts of carbon and biodiversity. Recultivation resulted in 30.84% less abandonment and 35.39% less carbon accumulated by 2017 than expected without recultivation. Unless policy-makers take steps to reduce recultivation or provide incentives for regeneration, abandonment will remain a missed opportunity to reduce biodiversity loss and climate change.

File: sciadv.abm8999.pdf

Winter conditions structure extratropical patterns of species richness of amphibians, birds, and mammals globally

Aim: The aim was to derive global indices of winter conditions and examine their relationships with species richness patterns outside of the tropics. Location: All extratropical areas (>25° N and 25° S latitudes), excluding islands. Time period: 2000– 2018.Major taxa studied: Amphibians, birds and mammals. Methods: We mapped three global indices of winter conditions [number of days of frozen ground (length of frozen ground winter); snow cover variability; and lack of subnivium (below-snow refuge)] from satellite data, then used generalized additive models to examine their relationships with species richness patterns derived from range data. Results: Length of frozen ground winter was the strongest predictor of species rich-ness, with a consistent cross-taxonomic decline in species richness occurring beyond 3 months of winter. It also often outperformed other environmental predictors of species richness patterns commonly used in biodiversity studies, including climate variables, primary productivity and elevation. In areas with ≥3 months of winter conditions, all three winter indices explained much of the deviance in amphibian, mammal and resident bird species richness. Mammals exhibited a stronger relationship with snow cover variability and lack of subnivium than the other taxa. Species richness of fully migratory species of birds peaked at c. 5.5 months of winter, coinciding with low species richness of residents. Main conclusions: Our study demonstrates that winter structures latitudinal and elevational gradients of extratropical terrestrial species richness. In a rapidly warming world, tracking the seasonal dynamics of frozen ground and snow cover will be essential for predicting the consequences of climate change on species, communities and ecosystems. The indices of winter conditions we developed from satellite imagery provide an effective means of monitoring these dynamics into the future.

File: Global-Ecology-and-Biogeography-2022-Gudex‐Cross-Winter-conditions-structure-extratropical-patterns-of-species.pdf

Integrated topographic correction improves forest mapping using Landsat imagery

In mountainous environments, topography strongly affects the reflectance due to illumination effects and cast shadows, which introduce errors in land cover classifications. However, topographic correction is not routinely implemented in standard data pre-processing chains (e.g., Landsat Analysis Ready Data), and there is a lack of consensus whether topographic correction is necessary, and if so, how to conduct it. Furthermore, methods that correct simultaneously for atmospheric and topographic effects are becoming available, but they have not been compared directly. Our objects were to investigate (1) the effectiveness of two topographic correction approaches that integrate atmospheric and topographic correction, (2) improvements in classification accuracy when analyzing topographically corrected single-date imagery (14 July 2016 and 2 October 2016), versus a full Landsat time series from 2014 to 2016, and 3) improvements in classification accuracy when including additional terrain information (i.e. topographic slope, elevation, and aspect). We developed a physical based model and compared it with an enhanced C-correction, both of which integrate atmospheric and topographic correction. We compared classification accuracies with and without topographic correction using combinations of single-date imagery, image composites and spectral-temporal metrics generated from the full Landsat time series, and additional terrain information in the Caucasus Mountains. We found that both the enhanced C-correction and the physical model performed very well and largely eliminated the correlation (Pearson’s correlation coefficient r ranges from 0.06 to 0.24) between surface reflectance and illumination condition, but the physical model performed best (r ranges from 0.05 to 0.11). Both image composites, and spectral-temporal metrics generated from corrected imagery, resulted in significantly (p ≤ 0.05) higher classification accuracies and better forest classifications, especially for the mixed forests. Adding terrain information reduced classification error significantly, but not as much as topographic correction. In summary, topographic correction remains necessary, even when analyzing a full Landsat time series and including a digital elevation model in the classification. We recommend that topographic correction should be applied when analyzing Landsat satellite imagery in mountainous region for forest cover classification.

File: 1-s2.0-S0303243422000423-main.pdf

Mapping breeding bird species richness at management-relevant resolutions across the United States

Human activities alter ecosystems everywhere, causing rapid biodiversity loss and biotic homogenization. These losses necessitate coordinated conservation actions guided by biodiversity and species distribution spatial data that cover large areas yet have fine-enough resolution to be management-relevant (i.e., ≤5 km). However, most biodiversity products are too coarse for management or are only available for small areas. Furthermore, many maps generated for biodiversity assessment and conservation do not explicitly quantify the inherent tradeoff between resolution and accuracy when predicting biodiversity patterns. Our goals were to generate predictive models of overall breeding bird species richness and species richness of different guilds based on nine functional or life-history-based traits across the conterminous United States at three resolutions (0.5, 2.5, and 5 km) and quantify the tradeoff between resolution and accuracy and, hence, relevance for management of the resulting biodiversity maps. We summarized 18 years of North American Breeding Bird Survey data (1992–2019) and modeled species richness using random forests, including 66 predictor variables (describing climate, vegetation, geomorphology, and anthropogenic conditions), 20 of which we newly derived. Among the three spatial resolutions, the percentage variance explained ranged from 27% to 60% (median = 54%; mean = 57%) for overall species richness and 12% to 87% (median = 61%; mean = 58%) for our different guilds. Overall species richness and guild-specific species richness were best explained at 5-km resolution using ~24 predictor variables based on percentage variance explained, symmetric mean absolute percentage error, and root mean square error values. However, our 2.5-km-resolution maps were almost as accurate and provided more spatially detailed information, which is why we recommend them for most management applications. Our results represent the first consistent, occurrence-based, and nationwide maps of breeding bird richness with a thorough accuracy assessment that are also spatially detailed enough to inform local management decisions. More broadly, our findings highlight the importance of explicitly considering tradeoffs between resolution and accuracy to create management-relevant biodiversity products for large areas.

File: Carroll_et_al-2022_Mapping_breeding.pdf

Mapping forest types over large areas with Landsat data partially affected by clouds and SLC gaps

The ecosystem services that forests provide depend on tree species composition. Therefore, it is important to map not only forest extent and its dynamics, but also composition. Open access to Landsat has resulted in considerable improvements in remote sensing methods for mapping tree species, but most approaches fail to perform when there is a shortage of clear observations. Our main goal was to map forest composition with Landsat imagery in various data availability conditions, and to investigate how the missing data, either due to clouds or scan line problems affect classification accuracy. We tested a data driven approach that is based on multi-temporal analysis of the tree species’ spectral characteristics making it applicable to regional-scale mapping even when the gap-free imagery is not available. Our study area consisted of one Landsat footprint (26/28) located in Northern Wisconsin, USA. We selected this area because of numerous tree species (23), heterogenic composition of forests where the majority of stands are mixed, and availability of high-quality reference data. We quantified how classification accuracy at the species level was affected by a) the amount of missing data due to cloud cover and Scanning Line Corrector (SLC) gaps, b) the number of acquisitions, and c) the seasonal availability of images. We applied a decision tree classifier, capable of handling missing data to both single- and a three-year Landsat-7 and Landsat-8 observations. We classified the dominant tree species in each pixel and grouped results to forest stands to match our reference data. Our results show four major findings. First, producer’s and user’s accuracies range from 46.2% to 96.2% and from 59.9% to 93.7%, respectively for the most abundant forest types in the study area (all types covering greater than 2% of the forest area). Second, all tree species were mapped with overall accuracy above 70% even in when we restricted our data set to images having gaps larger than 30% of the study area. Third, the classification accuracy improved with more acquisitions, especially when images were available for the fall, spring, and summer. Finally, producer’s accuracies for pure-stands were higher than those for mixed stands by 10 to 30 percentage points. We conclude that inclusion of Landsat imagery with missing data allows to map forest types with accuracies that previously could be achieved only for those rare years for which several gap-free images were available. The approach presented here is directly applicable to Landsat-like observations and derived products such as seasonal composites and temporal statistics that miss 30% or more of the data for any single date to develop forest composition maps that are important for both forest management and ecology.

File: 1-s2.0-S0303243422000150-main.pdf

Statistical tests for non-independent partitions of large autocorrelated datasets

Large sets of autocorrelated data are common in fields such as remote sensing and genomics. For example, remote sensing can produce maps of information for millions of pixels, and the information from nearby pixels will likely be spatially autocorrelated. Although there are well-established statistical methods for testing hypotheses using autocorrelated data, these methods become computationally impractical for large datasets.
•The method developed here makes it feasible to perform F -tests, likelihood ratio tests, and t -tests for large autocorrelated datasets. The method involves subsetting the dataset into partitions, analyzing each partition separately, and then combining the separate tests to give an overall test.
•The separate statistical tests on partitions are non-independent, because the points in different partitions are not independent. Therefore, combining separate analyses of partitions requires accounting for the non- independence of the test statistics among partitions.
•The methods can be applied to a wide range of data, including not only purely spatial data but also spatiotemporal data. For spatiotemporal data, it is possible to estimate coefficients from time-series models at different spatial locations and then analyze the spatial distribution of the estimates. The spatial analysis can be simplified by estimating spatial autocorrelation directly from the spatial autocorrelation among time series.

File: 1-s2.0-S2215016122000449-main.pdf