Spruce budworm (SBW) is the most destructive forest pest in eastern forests of North America. Mapping annual current-year SBW defoliation is challenging because of the large landscape scale of infestations, high temporal/spatial variability, and the short period of time when detection is possible. We used Landsat-5 and Landsat-MSS data to develop a method to detect and map SBW defoliation, which can be used as ancillary or alternative information for aerial sketch maps (ASMs). Results indicated that Landsat-5 data were capable of detecting and classifying SBW defoliation into three levels comparable to ASMs. For SBW defoliation classification, a combination of three vegetation indices, including normalized difference moisture index (NDMI), enhanced vegetation index (EVI), and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), were found to provide the highest accuracy (non-defoliated: 77%, light defoliation: 60%, moderate defoliation: 52%, and severe defoliation: 77%) compared to using only NDMI (non-defoliated: 76%, light defoliation: 40%, moderate defoliation: 43%, and severe defoliation: 67%). Detection of historical SBW defoliation was possible using Landsat-MSS NDVI data, and the produced maps were used to complement coarse-resolution aerial sketch maps of the past outbreak. The method developed for Landsat-5 data can be used for current SBW outbreak mapping in North America using Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 imagery. Overall, the work highlights the potential of moderate resolution optical remote sensing data to detect and classify fine-scale patterns in tree defoliation.
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