Representation of an alpine treeline ecotone in SPOT 5 HRG data

Hill, Ross A.; Grancia, Klaus; Smith, Geoff M.; Schardt, Mathias. 2007 Representation of an alpine treeline ecotone in SPOT 5 HRG data. Remote Sensing of Environment, 110 (4). 458-467.

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An ecotone is a zone of vegetation transition between two communities, often resulting from a natural or anthropogenic environmental gradient. In remotely sensed imagery, an ecotone may appear as an edge, a boundary of mixed pixels or a zone of continuous variation, depending on the spatial scale of the vegetation communities and their transition zone in relation to the spatial resolution of the imagery. Often in image classification, an ecotone is either ignored if it falls within a width of one or two pixels, or part of it may be mapped as a separate vegetation community if it covers an area of several pixel widths. A soft classification method, such as probability mapping, is inherently appealing for mapping vegetation transition. Ideally, the probability of membership each pixel has to each vegetation class corresponds with the proportional composition of vegetation classes per pixel. In this paper we investigate the use of class probability mapping to produce a softened classification of an alpine treeline ecotone in Austria using a SPOT 5 HRG image. Here the transition with altitude is from dense subalpine forest to treeless alpine meadow and herbaceous vegetation. The posterior probabilities from a Maximum Likelihood algorithm are shown to reflect the land-cover composition of mixed pixels in the ecotone. The relationships between the posterior probability of class membership for the two end-member classes of ‘scrub and forest’ and ‘non-forest vegetation’ and the percentage ground cover of these vegetation classes (enumerated in 15 quadrats from 1:1500 aerial photographs) were highly significant: r2 = 0.83 and r2 = 0.85 respectively (p < 0.001, n = 15). We identify thresholds (alpha-cuts) in the posterior probabilities of class membership of ‘scrub and forest’ and ‘non-forest vegetation’ to map the alpine treeline ecotone as a transition zone of five intermediate vegetation classes between the end-member communities. In addition, we investigate the representation of the ecotone as a ratio between the posterior probabilities of ‘scrub and forest’ and ‘non-forest vegetation’. This displays the vegetation transition without imposing subjective boundaries, and has greater emphasis on the ecotone transition rather than on the end-member communities. We comment on the fitness for purpose of the different ways investigated for representing the alpine treeline ecotone.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Parr
ISSN: 0034-4257
Additional Keywords: Soft classification, Probability, Ecotone, Alpine treeline, SPOT HRG
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 15 Jan 2008 13:12 +0 (UTC)

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