Aaron M. Sparks · Mark V Corrao · Alistair M. S. Smith
Abstract: Numerous individual tree detection (ITD) methods have been developed for use with airborne laser scanning (ALS) data to provide tree-scale forest inventories across large spatial extents. Despite the growing number of methods, relatively few have been comparatively assessed using a single benchmark forest inventory validation dataset, limiting their operational application. In this study, we assessed seven ITD methods, representing three common approaches (point-cloud-based, raster-based, hybrid), across coniferous forest stands with diverse structure and composition to understand how ITD and height measurement accuracy vary with method, input parameters and data, and stand density. There was little variability in accuracy between the ITD methods where the average F-score and standard deviation (±SD) were 0.47 ± 0.03 using a lower pulse density ALS dataset with an average of 8 pulses per square meter (ppm2) and 0.50 ± 0.02 using a higher pulse density ALS dataset with an average of 22 ppm2. Using higher ALS pulse density data produced higher ITD accuracies (F-score increase of 10–13%) in some of the methods versus more modest gains in other methods (F-score increase of 1–3%). Omission errors were strongly related with stand density and largely consisted of suppressed trees underneath the dominant canopy. Simple canopy height model (CHM)-based methods that utilized fixed-size local maximum filters had the lowest omission errors for trees across all canopy positions. ITD accuracy had large intra-method variation depending on input parameters; however, the highest accuracies were obtained when parameters such as search window size and spacing thresholds were equal to or less than the average crown diameter of trees in the study area. All ITD methods produced height measurements for the detected trees that had low RMSE (<1.1 m) and bias (<0.5 m). Overall, the results from this study may help guide end-users with ITD method application and highlight future ITD method improvements.