Remote sensing is revolutionizing the way in which forests studies are conducted, and recent technological advances, such as Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), are providing more efficient methods to assist in REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) monitoring and forest sustainable management. The aim of this work was to develop and test a methodology based on SfM from UAV to generate high quality Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) on teak plantations (Tectona grandis
Linn. F.) situated in the Coastal Region of Ecuador (dry tropical forest). UAV overlapping images were collected using a DJI Phantom 4 Advanced©
quadcopter during the dry season (leaf-off phenological stage) over 58 teak square plots of 36 m side belonging to three different plantations located in the province of Guayas (Ecuador). A workflow consisting of SfM absolute image alignment based on field surveyed ground control points, very dense point cloud generation, ground points filtering and outlier removal, and DTM interpolation from labeled ground points, was accomplished. A very accurate Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) derived ground points were employed as ground reference to estimate the UAV-SfM DTM vertical error in each reference plot. The plot-level obtained DTMs presented low vertical bias and random error (−3.1 cm and 11.9 cm on average, respectively), showing statistically significant greater error in those reference plots with basal area and estimated vegetation coverage above 15 m2
/ha and 60%, respectively. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study aimed at monitoring of teak plantations located in dry tropical forests from UAV images. It provides valuable information that recommends carrying out the UAV image capture during the leaf-off season to obtain UAV-SfM derived DTMs suitable to serve as ground reference in supporting teak plantations inventories.
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