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Poor relationships between NEON Airborne Observation Platform data and field-based vegetation traits at a mesic grassland

February 2, 2022

Understanding spatial and temporal variation in plant traits is needed to accurately predict how communities and ecosystems will respond to global change. The National Observatory Ecological Network (NEON) Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) provides hyperspectral images and associated data products at numerous field sites at 1 m spatial resolution, potentially allowing high-resolution trait mapping. We tested the accuracy of NEON’s readily available AOP derived data products – Leaf Area Index, Total biomass, Ecosystem structure (Canopy height model; CHM), and Canopy Nitrogen by comparing them to spatially extensive field measurements from a mesic tallgrass prairie. Correlations with AOP data products exhibited generally weak or no relationships with corresponding field measurements. The strongest relationships were between AOP LAI and ground-measured LAI (r = 0.32) and AOP Total biomass and ground-measured biomass (r = 0.23). We also examined how well the full reflectance spectra (380-2500 nm), as opposed to derived products, could predict vegetation traits using partial least-squares regression models. Only one of the eight traits examined, Nitrogen, had a validation R2 of more than 0.25. For all vegetation traits, validation R2 ranged from 0.08-0.29 and the root mean square error of prediction ranged from 14-64%. Our results suggest that currently available AOP derived data products should not be used without extensive ground-based validation. Relationships using the full reflectance spectra may be more promising, although careful consideration of field and AOP data mismatches in space and/or time, biases in field-based measurements or AOP algorithms, and model uncertainty are needed. Finally, grassland sites may be especially challenging for airborne spectroscopy because of their high species diversity within a small area, mixed functional types of plant communities, and heterogenous mosaics of disturbance and resource availability. Remote sensing observations are one of the most promising approaches to understanding ecological patterns across space and time, yet the opportunity to engage a diverse community of NEON data users will depend on establishing rigorous links with in-situ field measurements across a diversity of sites.

Publication Year 2022
Title Poor relationships between NEON Airborne Observation Platform data and field-based vegetation traits at a mesic grassland
DOI 10.1002/ecy.3590
Authors Stephanie Pau, Jesse Nippert, Ryan Slapikas, Daniel Mark Griffith, Seton Bachle, Brent Helliker, Rory O’Connor, William J. Riley, Christopher J. Still, Marissa Zaricor
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology
Index ID 70227958
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center