Natura 2000 Habitat Conservation Status is currently evaluated based on fieldwork. However, this is proving to be unfeasible over large areas. The use of remote sensing is increasingly encouraged but covering the full range of ecological variables by such datasets and ensuring compatibility with the traditional assessment methodology has not been achieved yet. We aimed to test Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) as a source for mapping all variables required by the local official conservation status assessment scheme and to develop an automated method that calculates Natura 2000 conservation status at 0.5 m raster resolution for 24 km2
of Pannonic Salt Steppe habitat (code 1530). We used multi-temporal (summer and winter) ALS point clouds with full-waveform recording and a density of 10 pt/m2
. Some required variables were derived from ALS product rasters; others involved vegetation classification layers calculated by machine learning and fuzzy categorization. Thresholds separating favorable and unfavorable values of each variable required by the national assessment scheme were manually calibrated from 10 plots where field-based assessment was carried out. Rasters representing positive and negative scores for each input variable were integrated in a ruleset that exactly follows the Hungarian Natura 2000 assessment scheme for grasslands. Accuracy of each parameter and the final conservation status score and category was evaluated by 10 independent assessment plots. We conclude that ALS is a suitable data source for Natura 2000 assessments in grasslands, and that the national grassland assessment scheme can successfully be used as a GIS processing model for conservation status, ensuring that the output is directly comparable with traditional field based assessments.
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