Multisensor UAS mapping of Plant Species and Plant Functional Types in Midwestern Grasslands

Emma C. Hall, Mark J. Lara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) have emerged as powerful ecological observation platforms capable of filling critical spatial and spectral observation gaps in plant physiological and phenological traits that have been difficult to measure from space-borne sensors. Despite recent technological advances, the high cost of drone-borne sensors limits the widespread application of UAS technology across scientific disciplines. Here, we evaluate the tradeoffs between off-the-shelf and sophisticated drone-borne sensors for mapping plant species and plant functional types (PFTs) within a diverse grassland. Specifically, we compared species and PFT mapping accuracies derived from hyperspectral, multispectral, and RGB imagery fused with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) or structure-for-motion (SfM)-derived canopy height models (CHM). Sensor–data fusion were used to consider either a single observation period or near-monthly observation frequencies for integration of phenological information (i.e., phenometrics). Results indicate that overall classification accuracies for plant species and PFTs were highest in hyperspectral and LiDAR-CHM fusions (78 and 89%, respectively), followed by multispectral and phenometric–SfM–CHM fusions (52 and 60%, respectively) and RGB and SfM–CHM fusions (45 and 47%, respectively). Our findings demonstrate clear tradeoffs in mapping accuracies from economical versus exorbitant sensor networks but highlight that off-the-shelf multispectral sensors may achieve accuracies comparable to those of sophisticated UAS sensors by integrating phenometrics into machine learning image classifiers.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3453
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 18 2022


  • UAS
  • hyperspectral
  • LiDAR
  • random forest classifier
  • image classification


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