Sentinel-2 time series based optimal features and time window for mapping invasive Australian native Acacia species in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
The spread of invasive Australia native Acacia tree species threatens biodiversity and adversely affecting on vegetative structure and function, including plant community composition, quantity and quality worldwide. It is essential to provide researchers and land managers for biological invasion science and management with accurate information of the distribution of invasive alien species and their dynamics. Remotely sensed data that reveal spatial distribution of the earth's surface features/objects provide great potential for this purpose. Consistent satellite monitoring of alien invasive plants is often difficult because of lack of sufficient spectral contrast between them and co-occurring plants species. Time series analysis of spectral properties of the species can reveal timing of their variations among adjacent species. This information can improve accuracy of invasive species discrimination and mapping using remote sensing data at large scale. We sought to identify and better understand the optimal time window and key spectral features sufficient to detect invasive Acacia trees in heterogeneous forested landscape in South Africa. We explored one-year (January to December 2018) time series spectral bands and vegetation indices derived from optical Copernicus Sentinel-2 data. The attributes correspond to geographical information of invasive Acacia and native species recorded during a field survey undertaken from 21 February to 25 February 2018 over Kwa-Zulu Natal grasslands landscape, in South Africa. The results showed comparable separability prospects between times series of spectral bands and that of vegetation indices. Substantial differences between Acacia species and native species were observed from spectral indices and spectral bands which are sensitive to Leaf Area Index, canopy chlorophyll and nitrogen concentrations. The results further revealed spectral differences between Acacia species and co-occurring native vegetation in April (senescence for deciduous plants), June-July (dry season), September (peak flowering period of Acacia spp) and December (leaf green-up) with vegetation indices (overall accuracy > 80%). While spectral bands showed the beginning of the growing season (November-January) and peak vegetation productivity (February-March) as the optimal seasons or dates for image acquisition for discriminating Acacias from its co-occurring native species (overall accuracy > 80%). In general, the use of Sentinel-2 time series spectral bands and vegetation indices has increased our understanding of Australian Acacias spectral dynamics, and proved that the sentinel-2 data is useful for characterization and monitoring Acacias over a large scale. Our results and approach could assist in deriving detailed geographic information of the species and assessment of a spread invasive plant species and severity of invasion.