Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Science (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Advisor 1

Ann L. Maclean

Committee Member 1

Tao Liu

Committee Member 2

Yvette Dickinson

Committee Member 3

Thomas Oommen


Natural habitat communities are an important element of any forest ecosystem. Mapping and monitoring Laurentian Mixed Forest natural communities using high spatial resolution imagery is vital for management and conservation purposes. This study developed integrated spatial, spectral and Machine Learning (ML) approaches for mapping complex vegetation communities. The study utilized ultra-high and high spatial resolution National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) datasets, and Digital Elevation Model (DEM). Complex natural vegetation community habitats in the Laurentian Mixed Forest of the Upper Midwest. A detailed workflow is presented to effectively process UAV imageries in a dense forest environment where the acquisition of ground control points (GCPs) is extremely difficult. Statistical feature selection methods such as Joint Mutual Information Maximization (JMIM) which is not that widely used in the natural resource field and variable importance (varImp) were used to discriminate spectrally similar habitat communities. A comprehensive approach to training set delineation was implemented including the use of Principal Components Analysis (PCA), Independent Components Analysis (ICA), soils data, and expert image interpretation. The developed approach resulted in robust training sets to delineate and accurately map natural community habitats. Three ML algorithms were implemented Random Forest (RF), Support Vector Machine (SVM), and Averaged Neural Network (avNNet). RF outperformed SVM and avNNet. Overall RF accuracies across the three study sites ranged from 79.45-87.74% for NAIP and 87.31-93.74% for the UAV datasets. Different ancillary datasets including spectral enhancement and image transformation techniques (PCA and ICA), GLCM-Texture, spectral indices, and topography features (elevation, slope, and aspect) were evaluated using the JMIM and varImp feature selection methods, overall accuracy assessment, and kappa calculations. The robustness of the workflow was evaluated with three study sites which are geomorphologically unique and contain different natural habitat communities. This integrated approach is recommended for accurate natural habitat community classification in ecologically complex landscapes.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.