Geospatial methods for tree canopy assessment: A case study of an urbanized college campus
Wiseman, P. Eric
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Urban tree canopy (UTC) assessment is essential for understanding the structure and function of urban forests and for devising management strategies. Geospatial techniques are routinely used for UTC assessment, yet their capabilities and limitations may not be apparent to urban forestry practitioners. This paper provides an overview of two primary methods of geospatial UTC assessment: photo interpretation (PI) and computerized image classification (IC). These methods were evaluated through a case study of an urbanized college campus in the eastern United States. The web-based application i-Tree Canopy is a PI method that uses statistical point sampling to estimate land cover. To examine the effect of point sample size on accuracy and certainty of the land cover estimates, we performed independently replicated assessments of our study area at various point sample sizes. We compared these findings with two IC methods: a proprietary analysis using high-spatial-resolution imagery and a low-spatial-resolution analysis using the web-based application i-Tree Landscape. With i-Tree Canopy, the estimate of UTC in our study area stabilized at a mean of 14.7% when point sample size reached 100 points, but it required more than 500 points to reach a tolerable standard error of less than 1.7%. By comparison, high-resolution imagery (considered the most robust form of assessment) estimated UTC in the study area at 16.1%, and i-Tree Landscape substantially underestimated UTC at 11.3%. Possible sources of variation in these estimates, along with practical considerations for choosing an appropriate UTC assessment method, are discussed.