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Identifying species of individual trees using airborne laser scanner

Johan Holmgren
a,
*
, A

sa Persson
b,1
a
Department of Forest Resource Management and Geomatics, Remote Sensing Laboratory, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences,
SE 90183, Umea, Sweden
b
Department of Laser Systems, Swedish Defence Research Agency, Sweden
Received 6 February 2003; received in revised form 4 April 2003; accepted 21 May 2003
Abstract
Individual trees can be detected using high-density airborne laser scanner data. Also, variables characterizing the detected trees such as
tree height, crown area, and crown base height can be measured. The Scandinavian boreal forest mainly consists of Norway spruce (Picea
abies L. Karst.), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.), and deciduous trees. It is possible to separate coniferous from deciduous trees using near-
infrared images, but pine and spruce give similar spectral signals. Airborne laser scanning, measuring structure and shape of tree crowns
could be used for discriminating between spruce and pine. The aim of this study was to test classification of Scots pine versus Norway spruce
on an individual tree level using features extracted from airborne laser scanning data. Field measurements were used for training and
validation of the classification. The position of all trees on 12 rectangular plots (50 20 m
2
) were measured in field and tree species was
recorded. The dominating species (>80%) was Norway spruce for six of the plots and Scots pine for six plots. The field-measured trees were
automatically linked to the laser-measured trees. The laser-detected trees on each plot were classified into species classes using all laser-
detected trees on the other plots as training data. The portion correctly classified trees on all plots was 95%. Crown base height estimations of
individual trees were also evaluated (r = 0.84). The classification results in this study demonstrate the ability to discriminate between pine and
spruce using laser data. This method could be applied in an operational context. In the first step, a segmentation of individual tree crowns is
performed using laser data. In the second step, tree species classification is performed based on the segments. Methods could be developed in
the future that combine laser data with digital near-infrared photographs for classification with the three classes: Norway spruce, Scots pine,
and deciduous trees.
D 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Laser; Tree detection; Species classification; Crown base height
1. Introduction
Automatic measurements with high precision of position,
height, and crown diameter of individual trees have been
performed using airborne laser scanning in the forests of
Europe (e.g., Hyyppa, Kelle, Lehikoinen, & Inkinen, 2001;
Persson, Holmgren, & Soderman, 2002; Schardt, Ziegler,
Wimmer, Wack, & Hyyppa, 2002). High-resolution laser
scanning data is typically used to automatically generate a
digital canopy model that describes the outer contour of the
tree crowns. The airborne laser scanning technique can
supply forest monitoring and management planning with
information of most trees (e.g., position and tree size),
which earlier was impossible to achieve with the same
efficiency and precision. In many forest applications, it is
important to know the tree species. Because the Swedish
forests consist of 42% Norway spruce (Picea abies L.
Karst.), 39% Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.), and 19%
deciduous (Anon, 2002), classification into these three
species classes would be useful for several applications
related to planning of forest management activities. Know-
ing the species of individual trees is also useful for three-
dimensional (3D) visualization of the forest landscape and
for monitoring ecosystem functions.
Recent development of the Global Positioning System
(GPS) and Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) now makes it
possible to determine the orientation of a sensor with high
precision without using any ground control points. Several
types of airborne sensors, e.g., digital frame cameras,
airborne laser scanners, and multi-spectral scanners, are
therefore becoming more operational for identification and
0034-4257/$ - see front matter D 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S0034-4257(03)00140-8
* Corresponding author. Fax: +46-90-778116.
E-mail addresses: Johan.Holmgren@resgeom.slu.se (J. Holmgren),
asa.persson@foi.se (A

. Persson).
1
Fax: +46-13-378287.
www.elsevier.com/locate/rse
Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423
classification of objects on the ground. Some researchers
have been developing algorithms for tree detection and
classification from high-resolution images. To automatically
find individual trees in aerial images, several methods have
been developed (e.g., Brandtberg & Walter, 1998; Dralle,
1997; Erikson, 2001; Gougeon, 1999; Pollock, 1996). For
tree species classification, features describing branch struc-
ture, crown shape, and color have been extracted from low-
altitude aerial images (e.g., Brandtberg, 1999, 2002).
Airborne laser scanners have been tested for estimation
of tree species-proportions in forest stands. Torma (2000)
concluded that only using 3D-coordinates was not enough
for estimating tree species-proportions with high accuracy in
forest stands. Torma proposed that better results would
probably be achieved with detection of single trees and by
using intensity data from the laser. In Finland, a vector
model of individual trees based on laser data has been
developed (Pyysalo & Hyyppa, 2002). This vector model
could be used for tree species classification.
In this study, the objectives were to (1) find features in
laser data useful for discriminating between Scots pine (P.
sylvestris L.) and Norway spruce (P. abies L. Karst.) and; (2)
validate the classification in different forest types. Discrim-
ination between the two tree species used the following
strategy. First, segmentation of individual trees was done
using the digital canopy model generated from laser data.
Second, tree height and crown area were derived. Third, a
number of variables were extracted from the laser data to
separate between segments with pine and spruce trees by
finding typical characteristics of the crown shape and
structure. For operational classification of Norway spruce,
Scots pine and deciduous trees, it would be an advantage to
combine the laser scanner with a sensor which measures the
reflectance of near-infrared light. Near-infrared images are
useful for separating between conifers and deciduous trees
while conifers usually reflect a similar amount of near-
infrared light (Lillesand & Kiefer, 1994). For example,
Meyer, Staenz, and Itten (1996) classified tree species of
individual trees using near-infrared photos where segments
with individual tree crowns had been manually digitized.
They report classification accuracies of 100% for both beech
(Fagus sylvatica L.) and Silver fir (Abies alba Mill.) but
lower classification accuracies for spruce and pine. Thus,
laser-generated segments with deciduous trees could be
separated from conifers using values of the pixels within
the segment from near-infrared imagery and laser data,
capturing tree shape and branch structure, could be used
to separate between Scots pine and Norway spruce.
2. Data collection
2.1. Study area
The test area Remningstorp located in Sweden (lat.
58j30VN, long. 13j40VE) was used. The most common
tree species were Norway spruce (P. abies L. Karst.),
Scots pine (P. sylvestris L.) and birch (Betula spp.). The
area had a variation in elevation of 120145 m above sea
level.
2.2. Laser data
Laser data used in this study was a subset of the laser
data used in an earlier study and is described in Persson et
al. (2002): The laser data acquisition was performed on 13
September 2000 using TopEye, an airborne laser scanning
system operated from a helicopter. The Laser Range Finder
(LRF) measures the distance between the helicopter and the
target up to 7000 times per second (Sterner, 1997). By
combining sensor position data from the GPS and the INS,
the attitude of the scanner, and distance measurements from
the LRF, the system produced up to two geo-referenced xyz
positions for each laser sounding with an absolute accuracy
of 0.100.30 m (Sterner, 1997). The pulsed laser (1064 nm)
beam moves across the helicopter track controlled by the
scanner and along track through the forward motion of the
helicopter. The resulting pattern on the ground is thus z-
shaped. The post-processing system calculates the position
of the reflecting object, the slant range, and the scanning
angle. The position of the reflecting object is derived from
the first and last peak of the returning pulse. Kinematic GPS
was used with a base station placed in an open area within
the measuring area. Laser measurements were made from
five parallel flight lines in a northsouth direction with a
length of 20002500 m and a distance between the flight
lines of 200 m. In the current study, only the beam
divergence of 1 mrad and the flight altitude 130 m above
ground was used. The footprint diameter given the beam
divergence and flight altitude was 0.26 m on ground. The
flight speed was 16 m/s, the scan mirror frequency 16.67
Hz, and the scan width F20j. The distance was according
to the flight specification 0.44 m between the laser-hits on
the ground within a scan line and 0.48 m between scan lines
at nadir.
2.3. Field data
Twelve rectangular field plots (50 20 m
2
) were placed
along the flight lines. The same measurements of tree
position, tree height and tree species recordings were used
as in Persson et al. (2002). The forest consisted of middle
and old aged (42115 years) spruce and pine (Table 1). Six
of the plots were dominated (>80%) by Norway spruce and
six by Scots pine. For all trees ( z0.05 m stem diameter at
1.3 m above ground) within the plots, the stem diameter
was measured and the tree species recorded. Relative to
two reference points in the nearest open area for each plot,
the position of the center of these tree stems was measured
(1.3 m above ground) using a total station. The outline of
each plot was determined in the same way as the position
of the individual trees and the positions of the reference
J. Holmgren, A

. Persson / Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423 416


points were measured using kinematic GPS equipment.
Accuracies of 0.05 m were possible to achieve according
to the specification of the GPS equipment. The tree height
and crown base height were measured for approximately 15
randomly selected sample trees on each field plot using an
ultrasound distance and angle device. In this study, crown
base measurements on the sample trees were also used. The
crown base height was defined as the distance along the
stem from ground to the attachment point of the first living
branch. The crown base height was not measured from a
branch if the branch was separated from the rest of the
crown with more than three whorls of branches.
3. Analysis methods
In an earlier study, a method to extract individual trees
from laser data was developed and validated (Persson et al.,
2002). The tree crown segmentation from this earlier study
was used as the first step for the tree species classification in
this study. All laser points within each crown segment were
grouped together to form the point cloud belonging to each
tree. To separate spruce and pine trees, different variables
were derived from the point clouds to capture variations in
the crown structure.
3.1. Segmentation
The method of identifying individual trees and estimating
height and crown diameter of these trees consists of six
steps that is described in Persson et al. (2002): (1) first, a
digital surface model (DSM) was created, (2) a digital
terrain model (DTM) was created, (3) the canopy of the
trees was modeled and a digital canopy model (DCM) was
created, (4) the DCM was smoothed with different scales,
(5) a parabolic surface was fitted to the elevation data to
determine which scale to choose for different parts of the
image, and finally (6) the height and crown diameter were
estimated for the identified trees.
Two raster layers (digital surface models), with 1/3 m
pixel size, are created from the unevenly distributed laser
points. One layer contains the highest laser reflection
point within each cell (DSM
max
), and the other contains
the lowest point (DSM
min
). DSM
min
is used to estimate
the ground level (DTM). The DTM estimation is based on
the theory of active contours (e.g., Cohen, 1991; Cohen &
Cohen, 1993; Kass, Witkin, & Terzopoulos, 1998), where
the contour can be seen as a net pushed upward from
underneath the surface and attached to the laser points
(Elmqvist, 2002). The same active contour algorithm is
then applied on DSM
max
from above to create a surface
following the outer part of the crowns to exclude pulses
that have penetrated into the canopy (DCM) (Fig. 1).
Height variation that is left after penetration removal and
caused by points on single branches is removed by
smoothing. For each identified tree, the tree position, tree
height, and crown diameter are estimated. This method
was validated in a previous study (Persson et al., 2002) at
the same study area. In total, 71% of the field-measured
trees is detected in the laser data (Table 1). Because a
large portion of the missed trees have a small stem
diameter, 91% of the total stem volume is detected.
Height and crown diameter of the detected trees are
estimated with a root-mean-square-error of 0.63 and 0.61
m, respectively.
3.2. Features
Using the segmented tree crowns, all laser points within
each crown segment were grouped together to form the
point cloud belonging to each tree. The laser points were
divided into three groups according to their distances to the
Table 1
Description of the 12 field plots used for the classification with age (years), number of detected trees with proportion of the total number of trees within
brackets, maximum height (m) of sample trees (height), mean stem diameter (cm) for different species classes, and proportion of stems for different species
classes (%)
Plot Age Detected trees Height Mean stem diameter Proportion stems
Spruce Pine Deciduous Spruce Pine Deciduous
1 87 27 (96%) 34 25 39 4 96 0
2 115 31 (49%) 30 16 41 11 23 50 27
3 76 27 (87%) 27 8 32 10 90 0
4 58 45 (62%) 23 27 9 0 53 47
5 57 43 (67%) 25 28 8 0 67 33
6 75 58 (41%) 14 11 14 10 5 87 8
7 61 42 (76%) 27 31 31 98 0 2
8 68 37 (77%) 29 31 24 96 0 4
9 61 52 (85%) 29 31 100 0 0
10 48 86 (85%) 22 21 100 0 0
11 42 55 (83%) 26 31 100 0 0
12 64 59 (95%) 28 30 24 95 5 0
Total 562 (71%)
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DCM or ground: ground points, within crown points, or
DCM surface points (Fig. 2). The stem position was taken as
the (X,Y)-value of the highest laser point. Three different
types of returns could result from one emitted pulse. The
return could be: (1) a single return with only one recorded
amplitude peak, (2) the first return of a double return with
two amplitude peaks, or (3) the second return of a double
return with two amplitude peaks.
The extracted variables were based on the proportion of
laser returns of different types and measurements of height
distribution, geometry, and intensity. All features were
derived using exclusive laser returns that were located
above the crown base height. The crown base height was
calculated using 0.5 m height layers. Each layer that
contained less than 1% of the total number of non-ground
laser points within the segment was set to zero and the
others to one. To reduce the influence of laser points from
low vegetation and neighbor trees, a one-dimensional
median filter (size 9) was first applied on the array of
height layers. The crown base height was then set as the
distance from ground of the lowest laser data point above
the highest 0-layer found. The relative crown base height
(baseheight) was derived by dividing by the estimated tree
height.
The following variables, based on the height (distance
from ground) distribution of laser returns within the tree
crown, were derived as relative values by dividing with the
estimated tree height: (1) relative median height (relmed),
(2) the relative 10th height percentile (relperc10), (3) the
relative 90th height percentile (relperc90), and (4) the
relative standard deviation (relstdev) of heights. The mean
vertical distance between the first and last return of the
double pulses (distp) was also derived.
The proportion of single returns (p1) and the proportion
of first returns (p2) were calculated. The proportion vege-
tation points (pveg) was defined as the number of returns
that were located above the crown base height divided by
the total number of returns from the segment. The propor-
tion DCM surface points (psurface) was defined as the
proportion of returns that were located near the DCM
surface (height value >0.998 DCM height value).
Features of the crown shape were derived by using the
parameters (a, b, and c) obtained by fitting a parabolic
surface to the laser points
z ax x
0

2
by y
0

2
c 1
where the center of the surface (x
0
, y
0
) was placed at the
laser-determined stem position. The laser data were con-
verted into a raster layer with a cell size of 0.05 m. Only the
DCM surface points were used and the points were weight-
ed according to their relative height (RH). The relative
height was defined as the height above ground divided by
maximum laser reflection point height above ground within
the segment. The weight (w
i
) was 100 for 0.9 VRH, 3 for
0.8 VRH< 0.9, 1 for 0.7 VRH< 0.8, and 0.1 for RH< 0.7.
Fig. 2. Laser data for a spruce and a pine tree. (o) Represents surface hits,
(*) represents within crown hits, and dots represents ground hits.
Fig. 1. (a) Digital Canopy Model (DCM) used for the segmentation, and (b) segmentation result.
J. Holmgren, A

. Persson / Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423 418


The square error was minimized (Eq. (2)) by fitting the
parabolic surface to the laser points (z
i
).
mind
X
i
w
i
z
i
z
2
2
The mean value (segp) of a and b was calculated. The
max value (segpmax) and the min value (segpmin) of a and
b were also calculated.
The following variables were calculated based on the
intensity of the returned pulses: (1) mean intensity (meanint)
of all returns, (2) maximum intensity (maxint) of all returns,
(3) mean intensity of single returns (meanintp1), and (4)
mean intensity of surface returns (meansurface).
Some variables were calculated based on the standard
deviation of the intensity of the returned pulses: (1)
standard deviation of intensity (stdevint) of all returns, (2)
standard deviation of intensity of single returns (stde-
vintp1), and (3) standard deviation of intensity of surface
returns (stdevintsurface).
3.3. Classification
Variables extracted from the laser data were grouped
together according to the correlation between them. Var-
iables with an absolute value of correlation coefficient
rz0.70 between each other formed a group. Students t-
test was performed for all variables in order to test the
difference in the two tree species group means. The
variable with the highest absolute t-value within each
group was selected to be used in the classification. Table
2 shows the grouped variables sorted in descending order
according to the absolute value of the t-value. The
distribution of the selected variables is shown in Fig. 3,
where segp has been shifted, transformed, and rescaled.
The distribution of the variables pveg, psurface, and segp
were judged to be negatively skewed. Because the clas-
sification models that were to be used require normally
distributed variables, these variables were transformed by
the square. The variable segp was first shifted so that all
values became positive before transformation.
The classification was done both with the classical linear
(Eq. (3)) and quadratic (Eq. (4)) discriminant functions. For
the linear classification, one common covariance matrix
Table 2
Variables that are highly correlated form one group and variables within a
group are sorted according to the absolute value of the t-value, with t-values
shown within brackets
Group 1 relstdev ( 10.19), relperc10 (9.94),
baseheight (8.72), distp ( 8.44), relmed (6.85)
Group 2 meansurface ( 22.02), meanintp1 ( 20.96),
maxint ( 20.47), meanint ( 17.27)
Group 3 p2 (16.81), p1 ( 7.88)
Group 4 pveg ( 23.43)
Group 5 psurface (15.03)
Group 6 stdevint ( 19.77), stdevintsurface ( 16.64),
stdevintp1 (0.74)
Group 7 relperc90 (4.32)
Group 8 segp (9.67), segpmax (9.18), segpmin (8.70)
Fig. 3. Histograms for the eight variables used for classification with grouping on pine (black bars) and spruce trees (white bars).
J. Holmgren, A

. Persson / Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423 419


was computed. For the quadratic classification, one covari-
ance matrix was computed for each tree species class. The
mean vectors m and the covariance matrices were computed
using all trees in a class except for the trees on the field plot
which were to be classified. Two d(x) values were then
calculated, each by using data from one of the two tree
species classes. The individual tree was assigned to the i tree
class with the greatest d
i
(x) value. The a priori probability, q
in Eqs. (3) and (4), was set to 0.5 for the classification.
d
i
x logq
1
2
log j j m
T
i

1

i

m
T
i

1
x
i 1; 2
3
d
i
x logq
1
2
log
i

m
T
i

1
i
m
i

m
T
i

1
i
x
1
2
x
T

1
i
x i 1; 2 4
3.4. Evaluation method
Each detected tree in laser data was automatically linked to
the corresponding field-measured tree in the same way as in
Persson et al. (2002): For each segment, three different cases
could occur: (1) no field tree was within the segment, (2) one
field tree was within the segment, and (3) more than one field
tree were within the segment. For case (1), the segment was
judged as a segment that had no field tree. For case (2), the
field tree was linked to the laser-detected tree. For case (3),
the field tree that was closest to the position of the laser-
detected tree was linked to the tree. When the laser trees and
the field trees had been linked with the rules above, each field
Fig. 4. Laser-measured crown base height plotted against field-measured
crown base height, 135 trees.
Fig. 5. The overall accuracy for the tree species classification with the linear discriminant function classification plotted against the number of variables for all
possible combinations of the eight selected variables.
J. Holmgren, A

. Persson / Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423 420


tree that had not been linked was examined. For each of these
trees, a search was done at a maximum distance of two pixels
in all directions. If a segment was found that had not been
linked and it was within the field plot, the field tree was linked
to this segment.
Of all extracted variables, only the crown base height had
been measured in field. The laser-measured crown base
height was compared with the field-measured crown base
height on sample trees after removal of incorrectly linked
trees. If a tree was not detected in the laser data, typically a
small tree next to and possibly obscured by a larger tree, this
smaller field-measured tree was linked to a detected tree if
positioned closer than the correct taller field-measured tree.
By comparing the heights of linked field-measured and laser-
measured sample trees, this error in linking could be found. In
order to remove incorrectly linked trees, trees were excluded
that had a laser-measured height that was more than 1.5 times
field-measured height (seven trees).
The ability to link the trees made it possible to evaluate
the classification. The classification was evaluated in a
cross-validation fashion in a way that the trees on a plot
were classified using the trees on the other plots as training
data. No exclusion of trees was done for the evaluation of
the classification. The classification results were presented
for both individual plots and for all plots together.
4. Results
There was a high correlation (r = 0.84) between field-
measured crown base height and laser-measured crown base
height for 135 sample trees (Fig. 4). The crown base height
was on average overestimated by 0.75 m. The root-mean-
square-error was 2.82 m. The crown base height was usually
more overestimated with laser data for trees with a low
crown base height compared with trees with a higher crown
base height.
The classification was performed for all possible combi-
nations of the eight selected variables (Fig. 5). In Table 3, the
classification result using one variable at a time and the best
combination for two to eight variables is shown. In Table 4,
the classification results for each field plot and for all plots
together are shown for the best combination when using six
variables. In Table 5, a confusion matrix is shown for all trees
using the linear discrimination function. The pine trees were
more often misclassified compared with the spruce trees.
5. Discussion
The overestimation of the crown base height could be
explained by the use of a too low measuring density to cover
a long crown. On the other hand, crown base height was
overestimated in Finland (Pyysalo & Hyyppa, 2002) with
Table 3
The overall accuracies for the tree species classification using linear dis-
criminant function with different number of variables (P), first one variable
at a time, and then the best combination of two to eight variables
P pveg stdevint meansurface p2 psurface segp relstdev relperc90 (%)
1 X 88.3
1 X 83.6
1 X 82.3
1 X 78.0
1 X 75.6
1 X 69.6
1 X 68.5
1 X 62.4
2 X X 90.9
3 X X X 93.1
4 X X X X 94.0
5 X X X X X 94.6
6 X X X X X X 94.8
7 X X X X X X X 94.0
8 X X X X X X X X 93.7
pvegproportion of returns that was located above crown base height;
stdevintstandard deviation of the intensity of the returned pulses;
meansurfacemean intensity of the surface returns; p2proportion of
first returns; psurfaceproportion of surface hits; segpmean value of the
parameters (a and b) of the parabolic surface; relstdevrelative standard
deviation of laser heights; relperc90the 90th height percentile divided
with the estimated tree height.
Table 4
Classification accuracies concerning tree species for all trees on each field
plot and for all trees on all the plots are shown using linear and quadratic
discriminant functions for the best combination of six predicting variables
Field plot Linear classification
accuracy (%)
Quadratic classification
accuracy (%)
1 89 85
2 78 78
3 93 93
4 95 95
5 98 95
6 100 96
7 100 100
8 100 97
9 92 88
10 99 99
11 89 95
12 95 93
All 95 94
Table 5
Confusion matrix for all trees on all field plots using the linear discriminant
function and the best combination of six predicting variables
Field control
Pine Spruce Row total
Classification
Pine 196 13 209
Spruce 15 313 328
Column total 211 326 537
Producers accuracy Users accuracy
Pine = 196/211 =92% Pine =196/209 = 94%
Spruce =313/326 = 96% Spruce = 313/328 =95%
Overall accuracy=(196 + 313)/537 =95%
J. Holmgren, A

. Persson / Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423 421


3.0 m despite a higher measurement density (10 points/m
2
).
The authors suggested that echoes from the lowest branches
might not be registered because the system only measures
one echo from each emitted pulse. In this study, a different
airborne laser scanner system was used. This system regis-
tered up to two echoes from each emitted pulse. It is
possible that a better result with less overestimation of the
crown base height, especially for long crowns, can be
achieved with high measurement density and with a system
that registers multiple echoes.
Eight variables were extracted that had low correlation
with each other. The highest classification accuracy was
obtained using six of these variables. When using more than
six variables, the classification accuracy decreased, both
using the linear and quadratic discriminant functions. The
linear and quadratic discriminant functions gave similar
classification accuracy. The quadratic discriminant function
will probably give higher classification accuracy if more
training data is available because the high number of
parameters (two covariance matrices) can then better be
estimated.
The large variations that naturally exist between individ-
ual trees, even within trees from the same species, can
explain the misclassifications. The lowest classification
accuracy could be found in pine-dominated forests. On plot
2, the pine forest typically had a lower layer of spruce. On
this plot, most pine trees were detected but spruce trees that
were not detected probably had an influence on the classi-
fication because the pine trees were mixed with spruce trees.
The spruce trees on this plot sometimes had their stems
close to taller pine trees and their treetops were sometimes
inside or close to the pine crowns. Some trees could also
have been incorrectly linked if a tall pine was detected in the
laser data but linked to a smaller undetected spruce in the
same segment as the pine.
The spruce trees are usually more conical and therefore
have a lower 90th height percentile compared with pine
trees. The parameters (a and b) from the parabolic surface
generally has, for the same reason, a higher negative value
for spruce trees compared with pine trees. However, pine
trees can have different shapes depending on the age,
usually with more conical crowns for younger pine trees.
The shape of the crown could also be influenced by
competition from neighboring trees, making the shape of a
pine tree more conical, similar to a spruce tree. This was
probably one reason why pine trees were misclassified more
often than spruce trees. Thus, using only the shape features
gives a low classification accuracy. Taking the spatial
distribution of trees in the neighborhood into concern could
possibly improve the classification. More training data, with
trees from more sites, are needed for this kind of analysis.
One problem is also that tree-growth has been influenced by
neighboring trees during its entire lifetime and that the
spatial pattern could have changed, for example due to
thinning and wind felling. The relative standard deviation
of height was usually higher for spruce trees compared with
pine trees because the spruce trees usually have longer tree
crowns compared with pine trees. However, crown length is
also a function of density of the forest in the neighborhood.
The mean intensity is usually higher for spruce trees,
probably because spruce crowns are denser compared with
pine crowns. The standard deviation of intensity is higher
for spruce trees compared with pine trees, probably because
the spruce usually is dense but have gaps in some places.
Note that high classification accuracies were achieved by
using the proportion of first returns and the standard deviation
of the intensity. These are variables that could also be
extracted on a stand level without any tree segmentation.
Thus, these variables could be used for estimation of tree
species proportions on plots and in forest stands where the
measurement intensity is too low to allow identification of
individual trees. There was a strong correlation between the
standard deviation of laser heights within a segment and the
corresponding crown base height; this correlation could be
used for estimating tree base height without detection of
individual trees. There was also a strong correlation between
the mean distance between first and last return of a double
return within a segment and the corresponding crown length.
The ability to measure tree height and stem volume has
been demonstrated in previous studies. The position, height,
and crown area of individual trees can first be measured with
high precision and stem volume can be estimated using the
measured tree height and crown diameter. In a forest man-
agement planning situation, it would be very useful to
combine these measurements of individual trees with tree
species identification. The results in this study demonstrate
that the airborne laser scanner technique can be used for high-
accuracy classification of individual trees of Scots pine and
Norway spruce, at least in forests with sparse low vegetation.
Training data sets probably need to be collected for different
regions because some of the variations in crown shape and
branch structure are probably specific for different regions.
The variables used for the classification can be divided
into two groups. The first group includes features that
measure the shape of the tree (e.g., relative crown base
height and parameters from the parabolic surface). These
variables can be assumed to be rather stable and not too
dependent on the system, system settings or seasonal differ-
ences of the trees. The second group includes the variables
that do not measure the shape of the tree (e.g., the intensity).
These variables probably depend to a large degree on the
system, system settings, and seasonal differences of the trees.
This needs to be further investigated in order to make tree
classification with airborne laser scanning data operational.
A combination of laser and optical data will open up new
possibilities for tree species discrimination. High-density
laser data will be powerful for tree canopy delineation, and
for assessing canopy shape. Optical data (with V1 dm
pixels) will be useful for extracting canopy color and could
give information of the structure of branches in the canopy.
Current development shows a trend towards combination of
laser scanner data and optical images.
J. Holmgren, A

. Persson / Remote Sensing of Environment 90 (2004) 415423 422


6. Conclusions
In this study, promising results, with an overall classifi-
cation accuracy of 95%, are reported for classification of
Scots pine and Norway spruce. In general, pine trees were
more often misclassified compared with spruce trees. The
crown base height was measured in field and laser scanning
estimations of this variable could therefore be compared with
field measurements (r = 0.84). The crown base height was
usually overestimated for trees with long tree crowns. The
classification on a specific plot was validated by using the
trees on all other plots as the training data set. However, we
do not know if training data from another area can be used
without loss in classification accuracy. Most of the variables
are probably sensitive to regional and seasonal differences,
laser system type, and system parameter settings.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank Dr. Ulf Soderman, Dr.
Kenneth Olofsson, Professor Hakan Olsson, Dr. Mats
Nilsson, and Heather Reese for their advice and comments
on the manuscript. We would like to thank Hakan Sterner
and the staff at TopEye AB for delivering a high-quality
laser data set. We would also like to thank Magnus Elmqvist
for making it possible for us to use the active contour
algorithm he developed. The high-accuracy field measure-
ments were performed by Johan Dammstrom and Bernt
Svensson. The laser measurements were financed by the
Swedish National Space Board. The field measurements
were financed by the Hildur and Sven Wingquist Founda-
tion for Forest Research.
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