Accurate and updated finer resolution maps of rubber plantations and stand ages are needed to understand and assess the impacts of rubber plantations on regional ecosystem processes. This study presented a simple method for mapping rubber plantation areas and their stand ages by integration of PALSAR 50-m mosaic images and multi-temporal Landsat TM/ETM+ images. The L-band PALSAR 50-m mosaic images were used to map forests (including both natural forests and rubber trees) and non-forests. For those PALSAR-based forest pixels, we analyzed the multi-temporal Landsat TM/ETM+ images from 2000 to 2009. We first studied phenological signatures of deciduous rubber plantations (defoliation and foliation) and natural forests through analysis of surface reflectance, Normal Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), and Land Surface Water Index (LSWI) and generated a map of rubber plantations in 2009. We then analyzed phenological signatures of rubber plantations with different stand ages and generated a map, in 2009, of rubber plantation stand ages (≤5, 6–10, >10 years-old) based on multi-temporal Landsat images. The resultant maps clearly illustrated how rubber plantations have expanded into the mountains in the study area over the years. The results in this study demonstrate the potential of integrating microwave (e.g., PALSAR) and optical remote sensing in the characterization of rubber plantations and their expansion over time.
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