Mapping forest growth and degradation stage in the Brigalow Belt Bioregion of Australia through integration of ALOS PALSAR and Landsat-derived foliage projective cover data

Richard M. Lucas*, Daniel Clewley, Arnon Accad, Don Butler, John Armston, Michiala Bowen, Peter Bunting, Joao Carreiras, John Dwyer, Teresa Eyre, Annie Kelly, Clive McAlpine, Sandy Pollock, Leonie Seabrook

*Corresponding author for this work

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Differentiation of forest growth stages through classification of single date or time-series of Landsat sensor data is limited because of insensitivity to their three-dimensional structure. This study therefore evaluated the benefits of integrating the Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS) Phased Array L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) L-band HH and HV polarisation response from the woody components of vegetation with Landsat-derived foliage projective cover (FPC). Focus was on 12 regional ecosystems (REs) distributed across the Brigalow Belt Bioregion (BRB) of Queensland, Australia, where different stages of growth dominated by brigalow (. Acacia harpophylla) were widespread. From remnant areas of brigalow-dominated forests mapped previously for each RE by the Queensland Herbarium through field visits and interpretations of aerial imagery, frequency distributions of all three channels were extracted and compared to those of image segments generated using FPC and PALSAR data. For woody vegetation (with an FPC threshold of ≥. 9%) outside of the remnant areas, mature (non-remnant) forests were associated with segments where the HH and HV backscatter thresholds were within one standard deviation of the mean extracted for remnant forest. Early-stage regrowth was differentiated using an L-band HH threshold of <-. 14. dB, common for all REs because of similarities in structure at this stage. The early-stage included forests regrowing over several decades and often occurred in areas recovering from recent clearing events. Objects falling between the early and mature stages were considered to be intermediate regrowth and/or degraded forest. All areas with an FPC <. 9% were mapped as non-forest.Within the BRB, the Queensland Herbarium established that forests with brigalow as a dominant or subdominant component originally occupied over 7.3 million ha but were reduced to 586,364. ha by 2009, with 460,499. ha (78.5%) having brigalow as the dominant component. Using the Landsat FPC and ALOS PALSAR data, an additional 722,686. ha of brigalow-dominated regrowth forest were identified giving a total forested area (brigalow-dominated remnant and secondary forest) of 1,183,185. ha or 17.2% of the area of the 12 REs. Within this area, the greater proportion of regrowth (368,473. ha or 31.1%) was mapped as early stage primarily because of recovery following recent clearance events. 230,551 (19.5%) ha and 123,662. ha (10.5%) were mapped as intermediate and mature (non-remnant) stages respectively and the remainder (38.9%) was remnant forest. Users' and producers' accuracies were, respectively, 81% and 69% for early regrowth and 71% and 89% for mature and intermediate stage forests combined. The mapping, which used Queensland Herbarium's RE data to delineate brigalow extent, provided a structural, rather than age-based classification of growth stage, as is typically retrieved using time-series comparison of optical imagery. The regional estimates of growth/degradation stage generated for the BRB provide a basis for optimising the use and recovery of these threatened brigalow ecosystems with benefits for biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-57
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date05 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Biodiversity
  • Brigalow
  • Carbon
  • Degradation
  • Landsat
  • Regrowth


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