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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Towards low vegetation identification: A new method for tree crown segmentation from LiDAR data based on a symmetrical structure detection algorithm (SSD)

Huo, Langning; Lindberg, Eva; Holmgren, Johan


Obtaining low vegetation data is important in order to quantify the structural characteristics of a forest. Dense three-dimensional (3D) laser scanning data can provide information on the vertical profile of a forest. However, most studies have focused on the dominant and subdominant layers of the forest, while few studies have tried to delineate the low vegetation. To address this issue, we propose a framework for individual tree crown (ITC) segmentation from laser data that focuses on both overstory and understory trees. The framework includes 1) a new algorithm (SSD) for 3D ITC segmentation of dominant trees, by detecting the symmetrical structure of the trees, and 2) removing points of dominant trees and mean shift clustering of the low vegetation. The framework was tested on a boreal forest in Sweden and the performance was compared 1) between plots with different stem density levels, vertical complexities, and tree species composition, and 2) using airborne laser scanning (ALS) data, terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) data, and merged ALS and TLS data (ALS + TLS data). The proposed framework achieved detection rates of 0.87 (ALS + TLS), 0.86 (TLS), and 0.76 (ALS) when validated with field inventory data (of trees with a diameter at breast height >= 4 cm). When validating the estimated number of understory trees by visual interpretation, the framework achieved 19%, 21%, and 39% root-mean-square error values with ALS + TLS, TLS, and ALS data, respectively. These results show that the SSD algorithm can successfully separate laser points of overstory and understory trees, ensuring the detection and segmentation of low vegetation in forest. The proposed framework can be used with both ALS and TLS data, and achieve ITC segmentation for forests with various structural attributes. The results also illustrate the potential of using ALS data to delineate low vegetation.


Individual-tree segmentation; Airborne laser scanning; Terrestrial laser scanning; Symmetrical structure; Crown base height; Low vegetation

Published in

Remote Sensing of Environment
2022, Volume: 270, article number: 112857