Early Detection of Vitality Changes of Multi-Temporal Norway Spruce Laboratory Needle Measurements—The Ring-Barking Experiment


The focus of this analysis is on the early detection of forest health changes, specifically that of Norway spruce (Picea abies L. Karst.). In this analysis, we planned to examine the time (degree of early detection), spectral wavelengths and appropriate method for detecting vitality changes. To accomplish this, a ring-barking experiment with seven subsequent laboratory needle measurements was carried out in 2013 and 2014 in an area in southeastern Germany near Altötting. The experiment was also accompanied by visual crown condition assessment. In total, 140 spruce trees in groups of five were ring-barked with the same number of control trees in groups of five that were selected as reference trees in order to compare their development. The laboratory measurements were analysed regarding the separability of ring-barked and control samples using spectral reflectance, vegetation indices and derivative analysis. Subsequently, a random forest classifier for determining important spectral wavelength regions was applied. Results from the methods are consistent and showed a high importance of the visible (VIS) spectral region, very low importance of the near-infrared (NIR) and minor importance of the shortwave infrared (SWIR) spectral region. Using spectral reflectance data as well as indices, the earliest separation time was found to be 292 days after ring-barking. The derivative analysis showed that a significant separation was observed 152 days after ring-barking for six spectral features spread through VIS and SWIR. A significant separation was detected using a random forest classifier 292 days after ring-barking with 58% separability. The visual crown condition assessment was analysed regarding obvious changes of vitality and the first indication was observed 302 days after ring-barking as bark beetle infestation and yellowing of foliage in the ring-barked trees only. This experiment shows that an early detection, compared with visual crown assessment, is possible using the proposed methods for this specific data set. This study will contribute to ongoing research for early detection of vitality changes that will support foresters and decision makers.

Remote Sensing