# Partition and Inclusion Hierarchies of Images: A Comprehensive Survey

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## Abstract

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## 1. Introduction

- Block-based representations (on binary images [3,4,5] and grayscale images [6,7,8]) divide the image into the set of (rectangular) arrays of pixels. It has fewer elements than pixel-based representations, but the image data are still not interpreted. Most common applications include image compression [3,6,7], segmentation [5,6], and feature and attribute extraction [4,5,8].
- Compressed (or frequency) domain representations store the image as a set of coefficients in a transform domain, such as Fourier transform [9,10], wavelets [10,11,12], ridgelets [13], contourlets [14], etc. Typical uses include image compression [10,11], denoising [13,15], reconstruction [12], texture analysis and segmentation [16]. Their advantage is a reduced image size, but they are sensitive to translation, rotation and scaling [17] and make it difficult to manipulate localized image content.
- Region-based representations group similar connected pixels using a segmentation algorithm, typically producing an over-segmentation. The resulting regions are often called superpixels [18], with the region adjacency information kept in a region-adjacency graph (RAG) [19] or combinatorial maps [20]. Different approaches include normalized cuts [21], graph-based segmentation by Felzenszwalb and Huttenlocher [22] and watershed segmentation [23,24], with a comparison in [18]. The reduced number of regions based on interpreting image information keeps the representational accuracy [2], but further unions of regions need to be considered to detect semantic structures [25].
- Hierarchical representations propose those most likely unions of regions on different scales of the image, from fine to coarse [25]. They enrich the horizontal relations between regions present in (partial) segmentations [26,27] with vertical inclusion information between regions at different scales. Initially, they were used for image filtering [2,28,29], segmentation [30,31,32] and boundary detection [33] but have since been applied to a vast amount of domains and applications (cf. Table 3).

**Contributions.**The “building blocks” of hierarchical image representations were thoroughly investigated by Serra [26] and Ronse [27], who study the (partial) segmentations and partitions, and further the lattices of those (partial) partitions forming hierarchies [45,46,47]. In contrast to these and other theoretical works from Mathematical Morphology presented in a more general framework (e.g., [48]) and appropriated for different domains, we examine the component trees built directly from monochannel images represented by vertex-valued graphs and equipped with a 4-connectivity.

## 2. Related Work

## 3. Image Representation

#### 3.1. Images as Graphs

#### 3.2. Manipulating Image Components

## 4. Component Trees

#### 4.1. Hierarchies of Partitions and Partial Partitions

- $\mathcal{G}\in \mathcal{H}$,
- for each two elements ${\mathcal{R}}_{1},{\mathcal{R}}_{2}\in \mathcal{H}$ the following holds: ${\mathcal{R}}_{1}\cap {\mathcal{R}}_{2}\ne \varnothing \Rightarrow {\mathcal{R}}_{1}\subset {\mathcal{R}}_{2}$ or ${\mathcal{R}}_{2}\subset {\mathcal{R}}_{1}$.

#### 4.2. Construction Differences between Inclusion and Partitioning Hierarchies

**Inclusion trees.**The leaf nodes of inclusion trees hold small regions or points, such as local image maxima or minima [28,29,37], or markers on the image [77]. In a typical bottom-up construction, nodes are formed by a region growing process starting from the leaves by adding one or more pixels (in Mathematical Morphology, this commonly means the image flat zones) to the existing regions. The new node becomes a parent of the nodes merged by this action and this continues until the root node is obtained covering the whole image domain. As the regions are only formed by adding new pixels to existing region(s), we constrain Equation (13) to a strict inequality, $l>0$.

**Partitioning trees.**The principal difference with inclusion trees is that the leaves, as well as any cut, of a partitioning tree forms an image partition [70]. The initial partition can be any oversegmentation of the image such as image pixels, flat zones [25,42] or watershed segmentation [78]. New regions of the inner nodes are formed as unions of two or more existing adjacent regions. To reflect this, a constraint $k>1$ is added to Equation (12) and $l=0$ to Equation (13).

- Region model defines how regions and their unions are represented. It reflects the characteristics of the regions used in the construction process.
- Merging criterion or similarity (or dissimilarity) measure describes the interest of possible merges. It is based on the region model.
- Merging order defines the rules used to merge the regions and which merge to perform next based on the merging criterion.

#### 4.3. Indexing the Hierarchy

## 5. Analysis of Tree Characteristics

#### 5.1. Min and Max-Trees

- a parent node to all the previously constructed nodes at lower levels which are included in the region of the new node: $\mathcal{R}({n}_{{k}^{\prime}})\subset \mathcal{R}({n}_{k})$, ${k}^{\prime}<k$; or
- a leaf node if it does not include the regions of any previous nodes.

#### 5.2. Tree of Shapes

#### 5.3. Binary Partition Tree

- if a node m of $\mathcal{T}$ is a leaf node, then $\lambda (m)=0$,
- if a node m is created as a union of regions corresponding to the nodes ${n}_{1}$ and ${n}_{2}$ (i.e., $\mathcal{R}(m)=\mathcal{R}({n}_{1})\cup \mathcal{R}({n}_{2})$), and the dissimilarity between the regions in the moment of merging was $D(\mathcal{R}({n}_{1}),\mathcal{R}({n}_{2}))$, the level of the new node m is calculated according to:$$\lambda (m)=\mathrm{max}(\lambda ({n}_{1}),\lambda ({n}_{2}))+D(\mathcal{R}({n}_{1}),\mathcal{R}({n}_{2})).$$

#### 5.4. $\alpha $-Tree

- The region model for each region $\mathcal{R}$ is the boundary of that region, ${E}_{\mathrm{bound}}(\mathcal{R})$.
- The merging criterion defines the similarity between two neighboring regions as the lowest edge (valued by gray level difference) common to models of both regions: $D(\mathcal{R},{\mathcal{R}}^{\prime})=\mathrm{min}\{|f(p)-f(q)\left|\phantom{\rule{0.166667em}{0ex}}\right|{e}_{p,q}\in {E}_{\mathrm{bound}}(\mathcal{R}),{e}_{p,q}\in {E}_{\mathrm{bound}}({\mathcal{R}}^{\prime})\}$.
- The merging order dictates that, in the i-th step, all regions with the similarity equal to i should be merged.

#### 5.5. $(\omega )$-Tree

- The region model for $\mathcal{R}$ is the boundary of that region, ${E}_{\mathrm{bound}}(\mathcal{R})$, and minimal and maximal pixel values: $\mathrm{min}\{|f(p)-f(q)\left|\right|{e}_{p,q}\in \mathcal{R}\},\mathrm{max}\{|f(p)-f(q)\left|\right|{e}_{p,q}\in \mathcal{R}\}$.
- The merging criterion defines the similarity between all allowed sets of regions $\mathcal{N}=\{{\mathcal{R}}_{1},\dots ,{\mathcal{R}}_{n}\},n\le 2$ such that the subgraph of I generated by the union of all the region vertice sets: ${\bigcup}_{i=1}^{n}{V}_{{\mathcal{R}}_{i}}$ is connected. The weight of such a merge between a set of regions $\mathcal{N}$ is:$$\begin{array}{cc}\hfill W(\mathcal{N})=& \mathrm{max}(\mathrm{min}\{|f(p)-f(q)|\phantom{\rule{0.166667em}{0ex}}|\hfill \\ & {e}_{p,q}\in {E}_{\mathrm{bound}}({\mathcal{R}}_{i}),{e}_{p,q}\in {E}_{\mathrm{bound}}({\mathcal{R}}_{j}),\forall i,j,i\ne j\},\hfill \\ & \mathrm{max}\{f(p)|p\in {\mathcal{R}}_{i}\forall i\}-\mathrm{min}\{f(p)|p\in {\mathcal{R}}_{i}\forall i\}).\hfill \end{array}$$
- The merging order dictates that in the i-th step, all the sets of regions of maximal extent with the similarity equal to i should be merged.

## 6. Construction Algorithms

**Min- and Max-tree construction.**a recent comparison of Min-tree and Max-tree construction algorithms was offered by Carlinet and Géraud [101], dividing the construction algorithms into immersion algorithms, flooding algorithms and merge-based algorithms. The merge-based approaches are mainly used for parallelism, and are not further discussed here (for a recent parallel implementation of Max-tree combining the merge-based and flooding approach, cf. e.g., [102]).

**Tree of Shapes construction.**Early approaches to ToS construction operated with worst-case time complexity of $\mathrm{O}({N}^{2})$ [83,89] and were not easily extendible to multidimensional ($nD$) images [37]. A recent algorithm by Géraud et al. [39] overcomes these drawbacks by using the immersion algorithms for Min-tree construction as a canvas, and replacing the sorting step.

**Binary Partition Tree construction.**The BPT computation starts with an initial partition, then merges the two most similar regions in each step (until reaching a single region), iteratively updating the similarity. We present here the complexity estimation of the construction algorithm for the case when updating the region model and calculating similarity between the models can be done in constant time, as studied by Guigues [107].

**-tree construction.**The $\mathit{\alpha}$-tree construction algorithm relies on its equivalence with a Min-tree defined on the edges valued with pixel intensity differences [44,69], and can use any Min-tree algorithm. Extending the idea, Havel et al. [110,111] calculate the $\mathit{\alpha}$-tree directly using a modification of Tarjan’s union-find [104], presenting an algorithm suited for multithreading applications.

**(**$\mathbf{\omega}$

**)-tree construction.**The first step in calculating the $(\mathit{\omega})$-tree and other constrained connectivity hierarchies is calculating the $\mathit{\alpha}$-tree they are based on. The ultrametric watersheds by Najman [69] enable visualizing these hierarchies and calculating them from the $\mathit{\alpha}$-tree based on the Lowest Common Ancestor (LCA) [112] in constant time for every pair of neighboring elements in the ultrametric watershed. The transformation into the $(\mathit{\omega})$-tree is itself linear.

## 7. Applications and Future Directions

#### 7.1. Comparative Summary

#### 7.2. Open Challenges

## 8. Conclusions

## Acknowledgments

## Author Contributions

## Conflicts of Interest

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**Figure 1.**A hierarchy (

**a**); and the corresponding component tree (

**b**). The colors used to enclose the connected regions ${\mathcal{R}}_{i}$ in the hierarchy are utilized in the tree as the colors of the corresponding nodes.

**Figure 2.**This image demonstrates the difference between the superclasses of partitioning and inclusion trees. Cuts of the partitioning tree near its bottom and the middle, as well as the root node are displayed on the left. A set of nodes from the inclusion tree close to the bottom and middle of the tree, and the root of the tree are displayed on the right.

**Figure 3.**A possible partitioning tree constructed for the image in (

**a**) is shown in (

**b**), and one possible indexing of the tree is displayed as a dendrogram in (

**c**).

**Figure 4.**A possible inclusion tree for the image displayed in (

**a**) is shown in (

**b**), with one possible dendrogram shown in (

**c**). In this dendrogram, the gray nodes with $\u25b5$ represent new image elements entering the hierarchy, and do not belong to the support before then as indicated by the gray dotted line. The image extended by ghost pixels is shown in (

**d**), with the links between original pixels shown in red and the links between the ghost and corresponding original pixels in violet. The extended tree shown in (

**e**) is a partitioning tree for (

**d**), with the auxiliary nodes (in green) identifiable as the singletons in the hierarchy.

**Figure 5.**(

**a**) The original image; (

**b**) corresponding Min-tree; (

**c**) the dendrogram; and (

**d**,

**e**) Max-tree and its dendrogram. Corresponding regions are shown next to the nodes.

**Figure 6.**Upper and lower level sets of the image in Figure 5a (

**a**,

**b**); regions acquired by filling the holes of the level sets and forming the hierarchy (

**c**); the Tree of Shapes (

**d**); and the dendrogram (

**e**).

**Figure 7.**Creation of Binary Partition Tree on the flat zones of the original image in (

**a**), using a constant gray level as the region model. The model is updated as the gray level of the larger of the child regions after a merge, or average in case of a tie. The merging criterion defines the dissimilarity as the difference between the region models. Merging order merges the region pair with the smallest dissimilarity first. Three merging steps are represented in (

**b**–

**d**). The constructed BPT is displayed in (

**e**) and the numbers in the nodes indicate the merging order, with the indexed hierarchy dendrogram in (

**f**).

**Figure 8.**The original image (

**a**); and partitions for α = 0 –3 (

**b**)–(

**e**), respectively, with edges between connected pixels shown in thin green lines and region borders in thick red; the α-tree (

**f**); and the dendrogram (

**g**).

**Figure 9.**An example for the chaining effect for the image (

**a**). The hierarchy of α-connected components has only two different levels (

**b**,

**c**). Although all pixel gray levels differ, the decomposition has no intermediate steps.

**Figure 10.**The partitions by levels of the (ω)-tree, for the original image from Figure 8a. Partitions for ω = 0–5 are shown in (

**a**)–(

**e**), respectively. The tree is displayed in (

**f**), with the indexed tree displayed in (

**g**).

**Figure 11.**Filtering the standard

**256**×

**256**grayscale Lena image using different trees. For all the trees except the BPT, the filtering was done by choosing a threshold level and keeping only the nodes above that level, using the library made by the authors

^{1}. The images for the BPT were generated by the tool presented in [109], which uses a different indexing method and filtering strategy. For every tree, a weaker and stronger filtering were performed, with the number of remaining nodes displayed in the sub-caption (except for BPT). Weak and strong filtering of the Min-tree (originally

**15652**nodes) is shown in (

**a**,

**b**) respectively; and for the Max-tree (originally

**15048**) in (

**c**,

**d**). Filtering using the ToS (starting with

**23796**nodes) correspond to: (

**e**) weak; and (

**f**) strong. The images resulting from BPT are shown: (

**g**) weak filtering; and (

**h**) strong filtering. The

**α**-tree (

**76710**nodes) filtering results are displayed: (

**i**) weak; and strong (

**j**). Finally, filtering using the (

**ω**)-tree (

**75185**nodes before filtering) is depicted: (

**k**) weak; and (

**l**) strong.

Tree | Max Tree | Min Tree | Tree of Shapes |
---|---|---|---|

Dual tree | Min tree | Max tree | self-dual |

Type of objects | dark objects | bright objects | shapes |

Complete representation? | Yes | Yes | Yes |

Construction complexity | $\mathbf{O}(\mathit{N}\times \mathit{\alpha}(\mathit{N}))$ | $\mathbf{O}(\mathit{N}\times \mathit{\alpha}(\mathit{N}))$ | $\mathbf{O}(\mathit{kN})$ |

Additionalparameters | No | No | No |

Tree | Binary Partition Tree | $\mathit{\alpha}$-Tree | $(\mathit{\omega})$-Tree |
---|---|---|---|

Dual tree | self-dual ${}^{\mathit{a}}$ | self-dual | self-dual |

Type of objects | unions of initial partition | $\mathit{\alpha}$-CC (quasi flat zones) | $(\mathbf{\omega})$-CC |

Complete representation? | Yes ${}^{\mathit{b}}$ | Yes | Yes |

Construction complexity | $\mathbf{O}({\mathit{N}}^{2}\mathbf{log}\mathit{N})$ | $\mathbf{O}(\mathit{N}\times \mathit{\alpha}(\mathit{N}))$ | $\mathbf{O}(\mathit{N}\times \mathit{\alpha}(\mathit{N}))$ |

Additional parameters | Initial partition, | No | No |

region model, | |||

similarity measure |

Application Domain | Inclusion | Partitioning | |||
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Min/Max | ToS | BPT | $\mathit{\alpha}$-Tree | $(\mathit{\omega})$-Tree | |

filtering/simplification | [28,52,85,105,113,114,115] | [37,65,116,117,118] | [52] | [42,95] | [42,119] |

image/video segmentation | [28,29,114,120] | [117,118,121,122,123,124] | [2,109,125,126,127,128] | [42,44,129,130] | [42,44,119] |

image compression | [131] | [124,132] | |||

object detection & tracking | [133,134] | [25,135,136,137] | |||

feature/edge detection | [103] | [83,138,139,140] | |||

pixel/feature description | [62,141,142,143,144] | [63,144,145] | [146] | [146] | |

image comparison | [37] | ||||

change detection | [147] | ||||

image retrieval | [103,142,148,149] | [140] | [150] | ||

classification | [64,151,152] | [153,154,155] | [156] | ||

time series processing | [157] | ||||

astronomical imaging | [84,114,134,158] | ||||

remote sensing (inc. hyperspectral imaging) | [62,64,141,143,144,147,149,152,159,160] | [63,144,145,155] | [126,127,128,135,136,161] | [153] | [119,156] |

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Bosilj, P.; Kijak, E.; Lefèvre, S.
Partition and Inclusion Hierarchies of Images: A Comprehensive Survey. *J. Imaging* **2018**, *4*, 33.
https://doi.org/10.3390/jimaging4020033

**AMA Style**

Bosilj P, Kijak E, Lefèvre S.
Partition and Inclusion Hierarchies of Images: A Comprehensive Survey. *Journal of Imaging*. 2018; 4(2):33.
https://doi.org/10.3390/jimaging4020033

**Chicago/Turabian Style**

Bosilj, Petra, Ewa Kijak, and Sébastien Lefèvre.
2018. "Partition and Inclusion Hierarchies of Images: A Comprehensive Survey" *Journal of Imaging* 4, no. 2: 33.
https://doi.org/10.3390/jimaging4020033