Predicting temperate conifer forest successional stage distributions with multitemporal Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery
Forest succession is a fundamental ecological process which can impact the functioning of many terrestrial processes, such as water and nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Therefore, knowing the distribution of forest successional stages over a landscape facilitates a greater understanding of terrestrial ecosystems. One way of characterizing forest succession over the landscape is to use satellite imagery to map forest successional stages continuously over a region. In this study we use a forest succession model (ZELIG) and a canopy reflectance model (GORT) to produce spectral trajectories of forest succession from young to old-growth stages, and compared the simulated trajectories with those constructed from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) imagery to understand the potential of mapping forest successional stages with remote sensing. The simulated successional trajectories captured the major characteristics of observed regional mean succession trajectory with Landsat TM imagery for Tasseled Cap indices based on age information from the Pacific Northwest Forest Inventory and Analysis Integrated Database produced by Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service. Though the successional trajectories are highly nonlinear in the early years of succession, a linear model fits well the regional mean successional trajectories for brightness and greenness due to significant cross-site variations that masked the nonlinearity over a regional scale (R2=0.8951 for regional mean brightness with age; R2=0.9348 for regional mean greenness with age). Regression analysis found that Tasseled Cap brightness and greenness are much better predictors of forest successional stages than wetness index based on the data analyzed in this study. The spectral history based on multitemporal Landsat imagery can be used to effectively identify mature and old-growth stands whose ages do not match with remote sensing signals due to change occurred during the time between ground data collection and image acquisition. Multitemporal Landsat imagery also improves prediction of forest successional stages. However, a linear model on a stand basis has a limited predictive power of forest stand successional stages (adjusted R2=0.5435 using the Tasseled Cap indices from all four images used in this study) due to significant variations in remote sensing signals for stands at the same successional stage. Therefore, accurate prediction of forest successional stage using remote sensing imagery at stand scale requires accounting for site-specific factors influence remotely sensed signals in the future.