Important LiDAR metrics for discriminating forest tree species in Central Europe

Yifang Shi*, Tiejun Wang, Andrew K. Skidmore, Marco Heurich

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    104 Citations (Scopus)


    Numerous airborne LiDAR-derived metrics have been proposed for classifying tree species. Yet an in-depth ecological and biological understanding of the significance of these metrics for tree species mapping remains largely unexplored. In this paper, we evaluated the performance of 37 frequently used LiDAR metrics derived under leaf-on and leaf-off conditions, respectively, for discriminating six different tree species in a natural forest in Germany. We firstly assessed the correlation between these metrics. Then we applied a Random Forest algorithm to classify the tree species and evaluated the importance of the LiDAR metrics. Finally, we identified the most important LiDAR metrics and tested their robustness and transferability. Our results indicated that about 60% of LiDAR metrics were highly correlated to each other (|r| > 0.7). There was no statistically significant difference in tree species mapping accuracy between the use of leaf-on and leaf-off LiDAR metrics. However, combining leaf-on and leaf-off LiDAR metrics significantly increased the overall accuracy from 58.2% (leaf-on) and 62.0% (leaf-off) to 66.5% as well as the kappa coefficient from 0.47 (leaf-on) and 0.51 (leaf-off) to 0.58. Radiometric features, especially intensity related metrics, provided more consistent and significant contributions than geometric features for tree species discrimination. Specifically, the mean intensity of first-or-single returns as well as the mean value of echo width were identified as the most robust LiDAR metrics for tree species discrimination. These results indicate that metrics derived from airborne LiDAR data, especially radiometric metrics, can aid in discriminating tree species in a mixed temperate forest, and represent candidate metrics for tree species classification and monitoring in Central Europe.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)163-174
    Number of pages12
    JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


    • Airborne LiDAR
    • Leaf-off
    • Leaf-on
    • Morphology
    • Natural forest
    • Tree species


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