Ecosystem restoration and reforestation often operate at large scales, whereas monitoring practices are usually limited to spatially restricted field measurements that are (i) time- and labour-intensive, and (ii) unable to accurately quantify restoration success over hundreds to thousands of hectares. Recent advances in remote sensing technologies paired with deep learning algorithms provide an unprecedented opportunity for monitoring changes in vegetation cover at spatial and temporal scales. Such data can feed directly into adaptive management practices and provide insights into restoration and regeneration dynamics. Here, we demonstrate that convolutional neural network (CNN) segmentation algorithms can accurately classify the canopy cover of Portulacaria afra Jacq. in imagery acquired using different models of unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) and under variable light intensities. Portulacaria afra is the target species for the restoration of Albany Subtropical Thicket vegetation, endemic to South Africa, where canopy cover is challenging to measure due to the dense, tangled structure of this vegetation. The automated classification strategy presented here is widely transferable to restoration monitoring as its application does not require any knowledge of the CNN model or specialist training, and can be applied to imagery generated by a range of UAV models. This will reduce the sampling effort required to track restoration trajectories in space and time, contributing to more effective management of restoration sites, and promoting collaboration between scientists, practitioners and landowners.
Galuszynski Nicholas C, Duker Robbert, Potts Alastair J, Kattenborn Teja
Adaptive management, Aerial imagery, Albany subtropical thicket, CNN, Drone imagery, Ecosystem monitoring, Machine learning, Restoration ecology, Spekboom, UAVs