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Bothalia - African Biodiversity & Conservation

On-line version ISSN 2311-9284
Print version ISSN 0006-8241


ODINDI, John; MUTANGA, Onisimo; ROUGET, Mathieu  and  HLANGUZA, Nomcebo. Mapping alien and indigenous vegetation in the KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld using remotely sensed data. Bothalia (Online) [online]. 2016, vol.46, n.2, pp.1-9. ISSN 2311-9284.

BACKGROUND: The indigenous KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld (KZN SS) grassland is highly endemic and species-rich, yet critically endangered and poorly conserved. Ecological threats to this grassland ecosystem are exacerbated by encroachment of woody plants, with severe negative environmental and economic consequences. Hence, there is an increasing need to reliably determine the extent of encroached or invaded areas to design optimal mitigation measures. Because of inherent limitations that characterise traditional approaches like field surveys and aerial photography, adoption of remotely sensed data offer reliable and timely mapping of landscape processes. OBJECTIVES: We sought to map the distribution of woody vegetation within the KZN SS using remote sensing approaches. METHOD: New generation RapidEye imagery, characterised by strategically positioned bands, and the advanced machine learning algorithm Random Forest (RF) were used to determine the distribution and composition of alien and indigenous woody vegetation within the KZN SS. RESULTS: Results show that alien and indigenous encroachment and invasion could be mapped with over 86% accuracy whilst the dominant indigenous and alien tree species could be mapped with over 74% accuracy. These results highlight the potential of new generation RapidEye satellite data in combination with advanced machine learning technique in predicting the distribution of alien and indigenous woody cover within a grassland ecosystem. The successful discrimination of the two classes and the species within the classes can be attributed to the additional strategically positioned bands, particularly the red-edge in the new generation RapidEye image. CONCLUSION: Results underscore the potential of new generation RapidEye satellite data with strategically positioned bands and an advanced machine learning algorithm in predicting the distribution of woody cover in a grassland ecosystem.

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