Invasive buffelgrass detection using high-resolution satellite and UAV imagery on Google Earth Engine

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
By: , and 



 Methods to detect and monitor the spread of invasive grasses are critical to avoid ecosystem transformations and large economic costs. The rapid spread of non-native buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) has intensified fire risk and is replacing fire intolerant native vegetation in the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern U.S. Coarse-resolution satellite imagery has had limited success in detecting small patches of buffelgrass, while ground-based and aerial survey methods are often cost prohibitive. To improve detection, we trained 2-m resolution WorldView-2 satellite imagery with 12-cm resolution unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery and classified buffelgrass on Google Earth Engine, a cloud computing platform, using Random Forest (RF) models in Saguaro National Park, Arizona, USA. Our classification models had an average overall accuracy of 94% and producer’s accuracies of 54-75% for buffelgrass. We detected a 2.92 km2 area of buffelgrass in the eastern Rincon Mountain District (1.07% of the total area) and a 0.46 km2 area (0.46% of the total area) in the western Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. Buffelgrass cover was significantly greater in the Sonoran Paloverde-Mixed Cacti Desert Scrub vegetation type, on poorly developed Entisols and Inceptisol soils, and on south-facing topographic aspects compared to other areas. When we applied our classification model across herbicide control treatments within the park, we observed both lower and higher amounts of buffelgrass in treated relative to untreated areas. Our results demonstrate that high resolution imagery can improve on previous attempts to detect and classify buffelgrass and indicate potential areas where the invasive grass might spread. The methods demonstrated in this study could be employed by land managers as a low-cost strategy to identify priority areas for control efforts and continued monitoring.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Invasive buffelgrass detection using high-resolution satellite and UAV imagery on Google Earth Engine
Series title Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
DOI 10.1002/rse2.116
Edition Online First
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Zoological Society of London
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Country United States
State Arizona
Other Geospatial Rincon Mountain District ,Tucson Mountain District