Special Issue "Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019"

A special issue of Forests (ISSN 1999-4907). This special issue belongs to the section "Forest Inventory, Quantitative Methods and Remote Sensing".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Alessandro Matese
Website
Guest Editor
Institute of BioEconomy, National Research Council (CNR-IBE), Florence, Italy
Interests: precision agriculture; remote sensing; biogeochemistry; meteorology; crop production
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are new platforms that have been increasingly used in the last few years for forestry applications that benefit from the added value of flexibility, low cost, reliability, autonomy, and capability of timely provision of high-resolution data. The main adopted image-based technologies are RGB, multispectral and thermal infrared. LiDAR sensors are becoming commonly-used to improve the estimation of relevant plant traits. In comparison with other permanent ecosystems, forests are particularly affected by climatic changes due to the longevity of the trees and the primary objective is the conservation and protection of forests. Nevertheless forestry and agriculture involve the cultivation of renewable raw materials the difference is that forestry is less tied to economic aspects and this reflects the delay in using new monitoring technologies. The main forestry application aim to inventory resources, map diseases, species classification, fire monitoring and spatial gaps estimation. This Special Issue focuses on new technologies (UAV and sensors) and innovative data elaboration methodologies (object recognition and machine vision) for applications in forestry.

Dr. Alessandro Matese
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • UAV platforms
  • Sensors
  • Object recognition and machine vision
  • Estimation of plant traits including 3D measurements
  • Integration of UAVs with satellite images
  • Forestry applications

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Editorial for the Special Issue “Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)”
Forests 2020, 11(4), 406; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11040406 - 05 Apr 2020
Abstract
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are new platforms that have been increasingly used in the last few years for forestry applications that benefit from the added value of flexibility, low cost, reliability, autonomy, and capability of timely provision of high-resolution data. This special issue [...] Read more.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are new platforms that have been increasingly used in the last few years for forestry applications that benefit from the added value of flexibility, low cost, reliability, autonomy, and capability of timely provision of high-resolution data. This special issue (SI) collects nine papers reporting research on different forestry applications using UAV imagery. The special issue covers seven Red-Green-Blue (RGB) sensor papers, three papers on multispectral imagery, and one further paper on hyperspectral data acquisition system. Several data processing and machine learning methods are presented. The special issue provides an overview regarding potential applications to provide forestry characteristics in a timely, cost-efficient way. With the fast development of sensors technology and image processing algorithms, the forestry potential applications will growing fast, but future work should consider the consistency and repeatability of these novel techniques. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Research

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Open AccessArticle
An Automatic UAV Based Segmentation Approach for Pruning Biomass Estimation in Irregularly Spaced Chestnut Orchards
Forests 2020, 11(3), 308; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11030308 - 12 Mar 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
The agricultural and forestry sector is constantly evolving, also through the increased use of precision technologies including Remote Sensing (RS). Remotely biomass estimation (WaSfM) in wood production forests is already debated in the literature, but there is a lack of knowledge in quantifying [...] Read more.
The agricultural and forestry sector is constantly evolving, also through the increased use of precision technologies including Remote Sensing (RS). Remotely biomass estimation (WaSfM) in wood production forests is already debated in the literature, but there is a lack of knowledge in quantifying pruning residues from canopy management. The aim of the present study was to verify the reliability of RS techniques for the estimation of pruning biomass through differences in the volume of canopy trees and to evaluate the performance of an unsupervised segmentation methodology as a feasible tool for the analysis of large areas. Remote sensed data were acquired on four uneven-aged and irregularly spaced chestnut orchards in Central Italy by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) equipped with a multispectral camera. Chestnut geometric features were extracted using both supervised and unsupervised crown segmentation and then applying a double filtering process based on Canopy Height Model (CHM) and vegetation index threshold. The results show that UAV monitoring provides good performance in detecting biomass reduction after pruning, despite some differences between the trees’ geometric features. The proposed unsupervised methodology for tree detection and vegetation cover evaluation purposes showed good performance, with a low undetected tree percentage value (1.7%). Comparing crown projected volume reduction extracted by means of supervised and unsupervised approach, R2 ranged from 0.76 to 0.95 among all the sites. Finally, the validation step was assessed by evaluating correlations between measured and estimated pruning wood biomass (Wpw) for single and grouped sites (0.53 < R2 < 0.83). The method described in this work could provide effective strategic support for chestnut orchard management in line with a precision agriculture approach. In the context of the Circular Economy, a fast and cost-effective tool able to estimate the amounts of wastes available as by-products such as chestnut pruning residues can be included in an alternative and virtuous supply chain. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Using UAV Multispectral Images for Classification of Forest Burn Severity—A Case Study of the 2019 Gangneung Forest Fire
Forests 2019, 10(11), 1025; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10111025 - 14 Nov 2019
Cited by 5
Abstract
Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based remote sensing has limitations in acquiring images before a forest fire, although burn severity can be analyzed by comparing images before and after a fire. Determining the burned surface area is a challenging class in the analysis of burn [...] Read more.
Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based remote sensing has limitations in acquiring images before a forest fire, although burn severity can be analyzed by comparing images before and after a fire. Determining the burned surface area is a challenging class in the analysis of burn area severity because it looks unburned in images from aircraft or satellites. This study analyzes the availability of multispectral UAV images that can be used to classify burn severity, including the burned surface class. RedEdge multispectral UAV image was acquired after a forest fire, which was then processed into a mosaic reflectance image. Hundreds of samples were collected for each burn severity class, and they were used as training and validation samples for classification. Maximum likelihood (MLH), spectral angle mapper (SAM), and thresholding of a normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) were used as classifiers. In the results, all classifiers showed high overall accuracy. The classifiers also showed high accuracy for classification of the burned surface, even though there was some confusion among spectrally similar classes, unburned pine, and unburned deciduous. Therefore, multispectral UAV images can be used to analyze burn severity after a forest fire. Additionally, NDVI thresholding can also be an easy and accurate method, although thresholds should be generalized in the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Characterizing Seedling Stands Using Leaf-Off and Leaf-On Photogrammetric Point Clouds and Hyperspectral Imagery Acquired from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Forests 2019, 10(5), 415; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10050415 - 13 May 2019
Cited by 9
Abstract
Seedling stands are mainly inventoried through field measurements, which are typically laborious, expensive and time-consuming due to high tree density and small tree size. In addition, operationally used sparse density airborne laser scanning (ALS) and aerial imagery data are not sufficiently accurate for [...] Read more.
Seedling stands are mainly inventoried through field measurements, which are typically laborious, expensive and time-consuming due to high tree density and small tree size. In addition, operationally used sparse density airborne laser scanning (ALS) and aerial imagery data are not sufficiently accurate for inventorying seedling stands. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for forestry applications is currently in high attention and in the midst of quick development and this technology could be used to make seedling stand management more efficient. This study was designed to investigate the use of UAV-based photogrammetric point clouds and hyperspectral imagery for characterizing seedling stands in leaf-off and leaf-on conditions. The focus was in retrieving tree density and the height in young seedling stands in the southern boreal forests of Finland. After creating the canopy height model from photogrammetric point clouds using national digital terrain model based on ALS, the watershed segmentation method was applied to delineate the tree canopy boundary at individual tree level. The segments were then used to extract tree heights and spectral information. Optimal bands for calculating vegetation indices were analysed and used for species classification using the random forest method. Tree density and the mean tree height of the total and spruce trees were then estimated at the plot level. The overall tree density was underestimated by 17.5% and 20.2% in leaf-off and leaf-on conditions with the relative root mean square error (relative RMSE) of 33.5% and 26.8%, respectively. Mean tree height was underestimated by 20.8% and 7.4% (relative RMSE of 23.0% and 11.5%, and RMSE of 0.57 m and 0.29 m) in leaf-off and leaf-on conditions, respectively. The leaf-on data outperformed the leaf-off data in the estimations. The results showed that UAV imagery hold potential for reliably characterizing seedling stands and to be used to supplement or replace the laborious field inventory methods. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
The Use of Low-Altitude UAV Imagery to Assess Western Juniper Density and Canopy Cover in Treated and Untreated Stands
Forests 2019, 10(4), 296; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10040296 - 29 Mar 2019
Cited by 6
Abstract
Monitoring vegetation characteristics and ground cover is crucial to determine appropriate management techniques in western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.) ecosystems. Remote-sensing techniques have been used to study vegetation cover; yet, few studies have applied these techniques using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), specifically [...] Read more.
Monitoring vegetation characteristics and ground cover is crucial to determine appropriate management techniques in western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.) ecosystems. Remote-sensing techniques have been used to study vegetation cover; yet, few studies have applied these techniques using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), specifically in areas of juniper woodlands. We used ground-based data in conjunction with low-altitude UAV imagery to assess vegetation and ground cover characteristics in a paired watershed study located in central Oregon, USA. The study was comprised of a treated watershed (most juniper removed) and an untreated watershed. Research objectives were to: (1) evaluate the density and canopy cover of western juniper in a treated (juniper removed) and an untreated watershed; and, (2) assess the effectiveness of using low altitude UAV-based imagery to measure juniper-sapling population density and canopy cover. Ground- based measurements were used to assess vegetation features in each watershed and as a means to verify analysis from aerial imagery. Visual imagery (red, green, and blue wavelengths) and multispectral imagery (red, green, blue, near-infrared, and red-edge wavelengths) were captured using a quadcopter-style UAV. Canopy cover in the untreated watershed was estimated using two different methods: vegetation indices and support vector machine classification. Supervised classification was used to assess juniper sapling density and vegetation cover in the treated watershed. Results showed that vegetation indices that incorporated near-infrared reflectance values estimated canopy cover within 0.7% to 4.1% of ground-based calculations. Canopy cover estimates at the untreated watershed using supervised classification were within 0.9% to 2.3% of ground-based results. Supervised classification applied to fall imagery using multispectral bands provided the best estimates of juniper sapling density compared to imagery taken in the summer or to using visual imagery. Study results suggest that low-altitude multispectral imagery obtained using small UAV can be effectively used to assess western juniper density and canopy cover. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Robinia pseudoacacia L. in Short Rotation Coppice: Seed and Stump Shoot Reproduction as well as UAS-based Spreading Analysis
Forests 2019, 10(3), 235; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10030235 - 06 Mar 2019
Cited by 5
Abstract
Varying reproduction strategies are an important trait that tree species need in order both to survive and to spread. Black locust is able to reproduce via seeds, stump shoots, and root suckers. However, little research has been conducted on the reproduction and spreading [...] Read more.
Varying reproduction strategies are an important trait that tree species need in order both to survive and to spread. Black locust is able to reproduce via seeds, stump shoots, and root suckers. However, little research has been conducted on the reproduction and spreading of black locust in short rotation coppices. This research study focused on seed germination, stump shoot resprout, and spreading by root suckering of black locust in ten short rotation coppices in Germany. Seed experiments and sample plots were analyzed for the study. Spreading was detected and measured with unmanned aerial system (UAS)-based images and classification technology—object-based image analysis (OBIA). Additionally, the classification of single UAS images was tested by applying a convolutional neural network (CNN), a deep learning model. The analyses showed that seed germination increases with increasing warm-cold variety and scarification. Moreover, it was found that the number of shoots per stump decreases as shoot age increases. Furthermore, spreading increases with greater light availability and decreasing tillage. The OBIA and CNN image analysis technologies achieved 97% and 99.5% accuracy for black locust classification in UAS images. All in all, the three reproduction strategies of black locust in short rotation coppices differ with regards to initialization, intensity, and growth performance, but all play a role in the survival and spreading of black locust. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for Collecting Thematic Map Accuracy Assessment Reference Data in New England Forests
Forests 2019, 10(1), 24; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10010024 - 03 Jan 2019
Cited by 6
Abstract
Thematic mapping provides today’s analysts with an essential geospatial science tool for conveying spatial information. The advancement of remote sensing and computer science technologies has provided classification methods for mapping at both pixel-based and object-based analysis, for increasingly complex environments. These thematic maps [...] Read more.
Thematic mapping provides today’s analysts with an essential geospatial science tool for conveying spatial information. The advancement of remote sensing and computer science technologies has provided classification methods for mapping at both pixel-based and object-based analysis, for increasingly complex environments. These thematic maps then serve as vital resources for a variety of research and management needs. However, to properly use the resulting thematic map as a decision-making support tool, an assessment of map accuracy must be performed. The methods for assessing thematic accuracy have coalesced into a site-specific multivariate analysis of error, measuring uncertainty in relation to an established reality known as reference data. Ensuring statistical validity, access and time constraints, and immense costs limit the collection of reference data in many projects. Therefore, this research proposes evaluating the feasibility of adopting the low-cost, flexible, high-resolution sensor-capable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, UAV, or Drone) platform for collecting reference data to use in thematic map accuracy assessments for complex environments. This pilot study analyzed 377.57 ha of New England forests, over six University of New Hampshire woodland properties, to compare the similarity between UAS-derived orthomosaic samples and ground-based continuous forest inventory (CFI) plot classifications of deciduous, mixed, and coniferous forest cover types. Using an eBee Plus fixed-wing UAS, 9173 images were acquired and used to create six comprehensive orthomosaics. Agreement between our UAS orthomosaics and ground-based sampling forest compositions reached 71.43% for pixel-based classification and 85.71% for object-based classification reference data methods. Despite several documented sources of uncertainty or error, this research demonstrated that UAS are capable of highly efficient and effective thematic map accuracy assessment reference data collection. As UAS hardware, software, and implementation policies continue to evolve, the potential to meet the challenges of accurate and timely reference data collection will only increase. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Automatic Segmentation of Mauritia flexuosa in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Imagery Using Deep Learning
Forests 2018, 9(12), 736; https://doi.org/10.3390/f9120736 - 26 Nov 2018
Cited by 15
Abstract
One of the most important ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest is the Mauritia flexuosa swamp or “aguajal”. However, deforestation of its dominant species, the Mauritia flexuosa palm, also known as “aguaje”, is a common issue, and conservation is poorly monitored because of the [...] Read more.
One of the most important ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest is the Mauritia flexuosa swamp or “aguajal”. However, deforestation of its dominant species, the Mauritia flexuosa palm, also known as “aguaje”, is a common issue, and conservation is poorly monitored because of the difficult access to these swamps. The contribution of this paper is twofold: the presentation of a dataset called MauFlex, and the proposal of a segmentation and measurement method for areas covered in Mauritia flexuosa palms using high-resolution aerial images acquired by UAVs. The method performs a semantic segmentation of Mauritia flexuosa using an end-to-end trainable Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) based on the Deeplab v3+ architecture. Images were acquired under different environment and light conditions using three different RGB cameras. The MauFlex dataset was created from these images and it consists of 25,248 image patches of 512 × 512 pixels and their respective ground truth masks. The results over the test set achieved an accuracy of 98.143%, specificity of 96.599%, and sensitivity of 95.556%. It is shown that our method is able not only to detect full-grown isolated Mauritia flexuosa palms, but also young palms or palms partially covered by other types of vegetation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Application of UAV Photogrammetric System for Monitoring Ancient Tree Communities in Beijing
Forests 2018, 9(12), 735; https://doi.org/10.3390/f9120735 - 24 Nov 2018
Cited by 10
Abstract
Ancient tree community surveys have great scientific value to the study of biological resources, plant distribution, environmental change, genetic characteristics of species, and historical and cultural heritage. The largest ancient pear tree communities in China, which are rare, are located in the Daxing [...] Read more.
Ancient tree community surveys have great scientific value to the study of biological resources, plant distribution, environmental change, genetic characteristics of species, and historical and cultural heritage. The largest ancient pear tree communities in China, which are rare, are located in the Daxing District of Beijing. However, the environmental conditions are tough, and the distribution is relatively dispersed. Therefore, a low-cost, high-efficiency, and high-precision measuring system is urgently needed to complete the survey of ancient tree communities. By unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) photogrammetric program research, ancient tree information extraction method research, and ancient tree diameter at breast height (DBH) and age prediction model research, the proposed method can realize the measurement of tree height, crown width, and prediction of DBH and tree age with low cost, high efficiency, and high precision. Through experiments and analysis, the root mean square error (RMSE) of the tree height measurement was 0.1814 m, the RMSE of the crown width measurement was 0.3292 m, the RMSE of the DBH prediction was 3.0039 cm, and the RMSE of the tree age prediction was 4.3753 years, which could meet the needs of ancient tree survey of the Daxing District Gardening and Greening Bureau. Therefore, a UAV photogrammetric measurement system proved to be capable when applied in the survey of ancient tree communities and even in partial forest inventories. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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Open AccessArticle
Detection of Coniferous Seedlings in UAV Imagery
Forests 2018, 9(7), 432; https://doi.org/10.3390/f9070432 - 18 Jul 2018
Cited by 20
Abstract
Rapid assessment of forest regeneration using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is likely to decrease the cost of establishment surveys in a variety of resource industries. This research tests the feasibility of using UAVs to rapidly identify coniferous seedlings in replanted forest-harvest areas in [...] Read more.
Rapid assessment of forest regeneration using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is likely to decrease the cost of establishment surveys in a variety of resource industries. This research tests the feasibility of using UAVs to rapidly identify coniferous seedlings in replanted forest-harvest areas in Alberta, Canada. In developing our protocols, we gave special consideration to creating a workflow that could perform in an operational context, avoiding comprehensive wall-to-wall surveys and complex photogrammetric processing in favor of an efficient sampling-based approach, consumer-grade cameras, and straightforward image handling. Using simple spectral decision rules from a red, green, and blue (RGB) camera, we documented a seedling detection rate of 75.8 % (n = 149), on the basis of independent test data. While moderate imbalances between the omission and commission errors suggest that our workflow has a tendency to underestimate the seedling density in a harvest block, the plot-level associations with ground surveys were very high (Pearson’s r = 0.98; n = 14). Our results were promising enough to suggest that UAVs can be used to detect coniferous seedlings in an operational capacity with standard RGB cameras alone, although our workflow relies on seasonal leaf-off windows where seedlings are visible and spectrally distinct from their surroundings. In addition, the differential errors between the pine seedlings and spruce seedlings suggest that operational workflows could benefit from multiple decision rules designed to handle diversity in species and other sources of spectral variability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forestry Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2019)
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