Land cover data are widely used in ecology as land cover change is a major component of changes affecting ecological systems. Landscape change estimates are characterized by classification errors. Researchers have used error matrices to adjust estimates of areal extent, but estimation of land cover change is more difficult and more challenging, with error in classification being confused with change. We modeled land cover dynamics for a discrete set of habitat states. The approach accounts for state uncertainty to produce unbiased estimates of habitat transition probabilities using ground information to inform error rates. We consider the case when true and observed habitat states are available for the same geographic unit (pixel) and when true and observed states are obtained at one level of resolution, but transition probabilities estimated at a different level of resolution (aggregations of pixels). Simulation results showed a strong bias when estimating transition probabilities if misclassification was not accounted for. Scaling-up does not necessarily decrease the bias and can even increase it. Analyses of land cover data in the Southeast region of the USA showed that land change patterns appeared distorted if misclassification was not accounted for: rate of habitat turnover was artificially increased and habitat composition appeared more homogeneous. Not properly accounting for land cover misclassification can produce misleading inferences about habitat state and dynamics and also misleading predictions about species distributions based on habitat. Our models that explicitly account for state uncertainty should be useful in obtaining more accurate inferences about change from data that include errors.
Additional publication details
Modeling habitat dynamics accounting for possible misclassification