In current individual tree crown (ITC) delineation methods for high-resolution multispectral imagery, either a spectral band or a brightness component of the multispectral image is employed in delineation with reference to edges or shapes of crowns, whereas spectra of tree crowns are seldom taken into account. Such methods normally perform well in coniferous forests with obvious between-crown shadows, but fail in dense deciduous or mixed forests, in which tree crowns are close to each other, between-crown shadows and boundaries are unobvious, whereas adjacent tree crowns may be of distinguishable spectra. In order to effectively delineate crowns in dense deciduous or mixed forests, a new ITC delineation method using both brightness and spectra of the image is proposed in this study. In this method, a morphological gradient map of the image is first generated, treetops of multi-scale crowns are extracted from the gradient map and refined regarding the spectral differences between neighboring crowns, the gradient map is segmented using a watershed approach with treetops as markers, and the resulting segmentation map is refined to yield a crown map. Evaluated on images of a rainforest and a deciduous forest, the proposed method more accurately delineated adjacent broad-leaved tree crowns with similar brightness but different spectra than the other two typical ITC delineation algorithms, achieving a delineation accuracy of up to 76% in the rainforest and 63% in the deciduous forest.
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