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Background : Simulating vegetation distribution is an effective method for identifying vegetation distribution patterns and trends. The primary goal of this study was to determine the best simulation method for a vegetation in an area that is heavily affected by human disturbance.

Methods : We used climate, topographic, and spectral data as the input variables for four machine learning models (random forest (RF), decision tree (DT), support vector machine (SVM), and maximum likelihood classification (MLC)) on three vegetation classification units (vegetation group (I), vegetation type (II), and formation and subformation (III)) in Jing-Jin-Ji, one of China's most developed regions. We used a total of 2,789 vegetation points for model training and 974 vegetation points for model assessment.

Results : Our results showed that the RF method was the best of the four models, as it could effectively simulate vegetation distribution in all three classification units. The DT method could only simulate vegetation distribution in units I and II, while the other two models could not simulate vegetation distribution in any of the units. Kappa coefficients indicated that the DT and RF methods had more accurate predictions for units I and II than for unit III. The three vegetation classification units were most affected by six variables: three climate variables (annual mean temperature, mean diurnal range, and annual precipitation), one geospatial variable (slope), and two spectral variables (Mid-infrared ratio of winter vegetation index and brightness index of summer vegetation index). Variables Combination 7, including annual mean temperature, annual precipitation, mean diurnal range and precipitation of driest month, produced the highest simulation accuracy.

Conclusions : We determined that the RF model was the most effective for simulating vegetation distribution in all classification units present in the Jing-Jin-Ji region. The RF model produced high accuracy vegetation distributions in classification units I and II, but relatively low accuracy in classification unit III. Four climate variables were sufficient for vegetation distribution simulation in such region.

Yi Sangui, Zhou Jihua, Lai Liming, Du Hui, Sun Qinglin, Yang Liu, Liu Xin, Liu Benben, Zheng Yuanrun


** Important predictor variable, Jing-Jin-Ji region, Vegetation classification unit, Vegetation distribution model**