E. Belcore, M. Latella, M. Piras, C. Camporeale


The classification of ultra-high-resolution (UHR) imagery, characterized by spatial resolutions exceeding 10 cm, presents opportunities and challenges distinct from lower-resolution counterparts. Particularly, challenges are pronounced in some scenarios, such as mapping plant species in coastal environments, where similar vegetation responses and small plant sizes pose additional difficulties. The present work addressed such issues by developing a UHR vegetation cover classification model at the single plant level using data from uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) equipped with a multispectral optical sensor. The model was tested across the San Rossore Regional Park (Italy), where three pilot areas were defined as training-test-validation sites. The proposed solution consists of a hierarchical two-level-of-detail machine learning model based on object-based image analysis (OBIA) and random forest. This model considers spectral features and indices, elevation, and texture and can classify twelve plant species and two service classes (debris and sand) within the study areas. Train and test were carried out utilizing UAS flight data collected during two specific phenological periods and precise field data derived from in-situ vegetation surveys, which provided 937 herbaceous and shrub samples. The model performance was evaluated based on the error matrix and 50-fold stratified cross-validation method, obtaining an overall accuracy (OA) of 0.76 and a standard deviation of 0.08. Such assessment underscored the crucial role of texture information, in addition to radiometric and elevation. Finally, the model was tested against an unseen dataset, proving its transferability (OA equal to 0.62). Although the discussion highlights some aspects to be further improved and claims for future research, the first version of this hierarchical classification model demonstrated its potential for mapping and monitoring coastal sand dune ecosystems, providing data for understanding and, eventually, modeling ecological and biogeomorphological dynamics.

Journal Paper
International Journal of Remote Sensing
Open Access: