Mapping Mountain Vegetation Using Very-High-Resolution Remote Sensing: Challenges in Global Data Access and Image Classification
MRI News
article written by MRI
03.11.22 | 01:11

This MRI-funded synthesis workshop on very-high-resolution remote sensing of treeline ecotones and alpine vegetation took place from 18 – 22 July 2022 in Kochel am See at the northern edge of the Alps in Germany.  The workshop was organised by the Philipps University, Marburg, Germany, and the University of Turku, Finland with the support of the Mountain Research Initiative. It included a partially hybrid format to enable online access to the presentations and some of the discussions.

Mountain plant populations have already been observed shifting uphill due to climate change, with resulting changes in vegetation composition and functionality. In addition, local shifts to suitable microsites, functioning as local refugia, may reduce mountain species’ overall risk of extinction.

Characterizing fine-scale spatial patterns in vegetation cover, emerging through microsite preferences and spatial ecological processes, is important to understand alpine vegetation dynamics and predict the alpine zone’s future. To characterize and monitor such patterns, very-high-resolution remote sensing (i.e., with spatial resolutions < 0.5 m) offers great promise, particularly in the fine-grained alpine vegetation above the closed forest.

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Pictured above: Participants of mapping mountain vegetation using very-high-resolution remote sensing synthesis workshop  2022 in Kochel am See. (image by Johanna Toivonen )

However, two big challenges must be overcome before this potentially fantastic resource can be applied to map vegetation cover and monitor global changes in mountains. The first is the availability of and access to these data. The second is the analysis of the images in terms of recognizing and delineating vegetation types and, in the case of larger species like shrubs, trees, cushion plants, and giant rosettes, individuals.

In this workshop, the working group addressed these two challenges by discussing:

  1. What very-high-resolution data are available in different mountain areas of the world and how can we help to increase their accessibility?
  2. What data sources (e.g., satellite-based vs. drone-based) and methods are most suitable to map small-scale patterns in vegetation cover from the treeline ecotone into the alpine zone? Additionally, in the absence of easily available fine-scale imagery, how can readily available coarser-scale data be used to learn more about the fine details of alpine vegetation patterns?
  3. How can treeline researchers collaborate to map vegetation in alpine treeline ecotones in different parts of the world?

The program included presentations and lively discussions, as well as a one-day excursion to the treeline ecotone on the nearby Zugspitze range (the highest mountain in Germany). There were 11 on-site participants from five countries (New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, and Germany), or 11 countries if counting nationalities. Researchers from eight countries registered to attend the online sessions and contributed with questions and comments for the presenters of the talks. The additional diversity in career stages and research foci assured a rich and enriching workshop. The group will consolidate the findings of the workshop as well as further discussion in a paper.

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Pictured above: Workshop participants take an excursion to the treeline ecotone on the nearby Zugspitze range (image by Maaike Bader).

We thank all the participants who travelled from near and far to take part in the workshop:

Maaike Bader, Philipps University, Marburg, Germany

Bradley Case, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand

Sebastian Egli, Philipps University, Marburg, Germany

Michael Maroschek, Berchtesgaden National Park / TU Munich, Germany

Ida Marielle Mienna, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway

Mst Umme Salma Nila, University of Hamburg, Germany

Nishtha Prakash, Philipps University, Marburg, Germany

Christian Rossi, Swiss National Park, Switzerland

James Thornton, GEO Mountains, Mountain Research Initiative

Johanna Toivonen, University of Turku, Finland

Alessandro Vitali, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Italy

Cover image by Michael Maroschek