Detection of single tree stems in forested areas from high density ALS point clouds using 3D shape descriptors

N. Amiri*, P. Polewski, W. Yao, P. Krzystek, A. K. Skidmore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference paperpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
136 Downloads (Pure)


Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) is a widespread method for forest mapping and management purposes. While common ALS techniques provide valuable information about the forest canopy and intermediate layers, the point density near the ground may be poor due to dense overstory conditions. The current study highlights a new method for detecting stems of single trees in 3D point clouds obtained from high density ALS with a density of 300 points/m2. Compared to standard ALS data, due to lower flight height (150–200 m) this elevated point density leads to more laser reflections from tree stems. In this work, we propose a three-tiered method which works on the point, segment and object levels. First, for each point we calculate the likelihood that it belongs to a tree stem, derived from the radiometric and geometric features of its neighboring points. In the next step, we construct short stem segments based on high-probability stem points, and classify the segments by considering the distribution of points around them as well as their spatial orientation, which encodes the prior knowledge that trees are mainly vertically aligned due to gravity. Finally, we apply hierarchical clustering on the positively classified segments to obtain point sets corresponding to single stems, and perform ℓ1-based orthogonal distance regression to robustly fit lines through each stem point set. The ℓ1-based method is less sensitive to outliers compared to the least square approaches. From the fitted lines, the planimetric tree positions can then be derived. Experiments were performed on two plots from the Hochficht forest in Oberösterreich region located in Austria. We marked a total of 196 reference stems in the point clouds of both plots by visual interpretation. The evaluation of the automatically detected stems showed a classification precision of 0.86 and 0.85, respectively for Plot 1 and 2, with recall values of 0.7 and 0.67.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-42
Number of pages8
JournalISPRS Annals of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventISPRS Geospatial Week 2017 - Wuhan, China
Duration: 18 Sept 201722 Sept 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • High density ALS
  • 3D point clouds
  • Tree trunk
  • Classification
  • Forestry


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