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Title: Poor relationships between NEON Airborne Observation Platform data and field‐based vegetation traits at a mesic grassland
Understanding spatial and temporal variation in plant traits is needed to accurately predict how communities and ecosystems will respond to global change. The National Ecological Observatory Network’s (NEON’s) Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) provides hyperspectral images and associated data products at numerous field sites at 1 m spatial resolution, potentially allowing high-resolution trait mapping. We tested the accuracy of readily available data products of NEON’s AOP, such as Leaf Area Index (LAI), Total Biomass, Ecosystem Structure (Canopy height model [CHM]), and Canopy Nitrogen, by comparing them to spatially extensive field measurements from a mesic tallgrass prairie. Correlations with AOP data products exhibited generally weak or no relationships with corresponding field measurements. The strongest relationships were between AOP LAI and ground-measured LAI (r = 0.32) and AOP Total Biomass and ground-measured biomass (r = 0.23). We also examined how well the full reflectance spectra (380–2,500 nm), as opposed to derived products, could predict vegetation traits using partial least-squares regression (PLSR) models. Among all the eight traits examined, only Nitrogen had a validation 𝑅2 R 2 of more than 0.25. For all vegetation traits, validation 𝑅2 R 2 ranged from 0.08 to 0.29 and the range of the root mean square error of prediction (RMSEP) was 14–64%. Our results suggest that currently available more » AOP-derived data products should not be used without extensive ground-based validation. Relationships using the full reflectance spectra may be more promising, although careful consideration of field and AOP data mismatches in space and/or time, biases in field-based measurements or AOP algorithms, and model uncertainty are needed. Finally, grassland sites may be especially challenging for airborne spectroscopy because of their high species diversity within a small area, mixed functional types of plant communities, and heterogeneous mosaics of disturbance and resource availability. Remote sensing observations are one of the most promising approaches to understanding ecological patterns across space and time. But the opportunity to engage a diverse community of NEON data users will depend on establishing rigorous links with in-situ field measurements across a diversity of sites. « less
Authors:
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Award ID(s):
1926114 2025849
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10312690
Journal Name:
Ecology
ISSN:
0012-9658
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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