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Aerial Mapping of Forests Affected by Pathogens Using UAVs, Hyperspectral Sensors, and Artificial Intelligence

The environmental and economic impacts of exotic fungal species on natural and plantation forests have been historically catastrophic. Recorded surveillance and control actions are challenging because they are costly, time-consuming, and hazardous in remote areas. Prolonged periods of testing and observation of site-based tests have limitations in verifying the rapid proliferation of exotic pathogens and deterioration rates in hosts. Recent remote sensing approaches have offered fast, broad-scale, and affordable surveys as well as additional indicators that can complement on-ground tests.

This paper proposes a framework that consolidates site-based insights and remote sensing capabilities to detect and segment deteriorations by fungal pathogens in natural and plantation forests. This approach is illustrated with an experimentation case of myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) on paperbark tea trees (Melaleuca quinquenervia) in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The method integrates unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), hyperspectral image sensors, and data processing algorithms using machine learning. Imagery is acquired using a Headwall Nano-Hyperspec® camera, orthorectified in Headwall SpectralView® , and processed in Python programming language using eXtreme Gradient Boosting (XGBoost), Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL), and Scikit-learn third-party libraries.

In total, 11,385 samples were extracted and labelled into five classes: two classes for deterioration status and three classes for background objects. Insights reveal individual detection rates of 95% for healthy trees, 97% for deteriorated trees, and a global multiclass detection rate of 97%. The methodology is versatile to be applied to additional datasets taken with different image sensors, and the processing of large datasets with freeware tools.


Juan Sandino, Geoff Pegg, Felipe Gonzalez, Grant Smith

Published in:

Sensors 2018, 18(4), 944


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