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Mapping the Spatial Distribution of Fern Thickets and Vine-Laden Forests in the Landscape of Bornean Logged-Over Tropical Secondary Rainforests


Takeshige, R; Onishi, M; Aoyagi, R; Sawada, Y; Imai, N; Ong, R; Kitayama, K






Forest degradation has been most frequently defined as an anthropogenic reduction in biomass compared with reference biomass in extant forests. However, so-defined degraded forests may widely vary in terms of recoverability. A prolonged loss of recoverability, commonly described as a loss of resilience, poses a true threat to global environments. In Bornean logged-over forests, dense thickets of ferns and vines have been observed to cause arrested secondary succession, and their area may indicate the extent of slow biomass recovery. Therefore, we aimed to discriminate the fern thickets and vine-laden forests from those logged-over forests without dense ferns and vines, as well as mapping their distributions, with the aid of Landsat-8 satellite imagery and machine learning modeling. During the process, we tested whether the gray-level co-occurrence matrix (GLCM) textures of Landsat data and Sentinel-1 C-band SAR data were helpful for this classification. Our study sites were Deramakot and Tangkulap Forest Reserves-commercial production forests in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. First, we flew drones and obtained aerial images that were used as ground truth for the supervised classification. Subsequently, a machine-learning model with a gradient-boosting decision tree was iteratively tested in order to derive the best model for the classification of the vegetation. Finally, the best model was extrapolated to the entire forest reserve and used to map three classes of vegetation (fern thickets, vine-laden forests, and logged-over forests without ferns and vines) and two non-vegetation classes (bare soil and open water). The overall classification accuracy of the best model was 86.6%; however, by combining the fern and vine classes into the same category, the accuracy was improved to 91.5%. The GLCM texture variables were especially effective at separating fern/vine vegetation from the non-degraded forest, but the SAR data showed a limited effect. Our final vegetation map showed that 30.7% of the reserves were occupied by ferns or vines, which may lead to arrested succession. Considering that our study site was once certified as a well-managed forest, the area of degraded forests with a high risk of loss of resilience is expected to be much broader in other Bornean production forests.


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