Liana canopy cover mapped throughout a tropical forest with high-fidelity imaging spectroscopy

David C. Marvin, Gregory P. Asner, Stefan A. Schnitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Increasing size and abundance of lianas relative to trees are pervasive changes in Neotropical forests that may lead to reduced forest carbon stocks. Yet the liana growth form is chronically understudied in large-scale tropical forest censuses, resulting in few data on the scale, cause, and impact of increasing lianas. Satellite and airborne remote sensing provide potential tools to map and monitor lianas at much larger spatial and rapid temporal scales than are possible with plot-based forest censuses. We combined high-resolution airborne imaging spectroscopy and a ground-based tree canopy census to investigate whether tree canopies supporting lianas could be discriminated from tree canopies with no liana coverage. Using support vector machine algorithms, we achieved accuracies of nearly 90% in discriminating the presence-absence of lianas, and low error (15.7% RMSE) when predicting liana percent canopy cover. When applied to the full image of the study site, our model had a 4.1% false-positive error rate as validated against an independent plot-level dataset of liana canopy cover. Using the derived liana cover classification map, we show that 6.1%-10.2% of the 1823. ha study site has high-to-severe (50-100%) liana canopy cover. Given that levels of liana infestation are increasing in Neotropical forests and can result in high tree mortality, the extent of high-to-severe liana canopy cover across the landscape may have broad implications for ecosystem function and forest carbon storage. The ability to accurately map landscape-scale liana infestation is crucial to quantifying their effects on forest function and uncovering the mechanisms underlying their increase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-106
Number of pages9
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • Hyperspectral imaging
  • Panama
  • Support vector machine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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