Data Science Competition For Cross-Site Delineation And Classification Of Individual Trees From Airborne Remote Sensing Data


Delineating and classifying individual trees in remote sensing data is challenging. Many tree crown delineation methods have difficulty in closed-canopy forests and do not leverage multiple datasets. Methods to classify individual species are often accurate for common species, but perform poorly for less common species and when applied to new sites. We ran a data science competition to help identify effective methods for delineation of individual crowns and classification to determine species identity. This competition included data from multiple sites to assess the methods’ ability to generalize learning across multiple sites simultaneously, and transfer learning to novel sites where the methods were not trained. Six teams, representing 4 countries and 9 individual participants, submitted predictions. Methods from a previous competition were also applied and used as the baseline to understand whether the methods are changing and improving over time. The best delineation method was based on an instance segmentation pipeline, closely followed by a Faster R-CNN pipeline, both of which outperformed the baseline method. However, the baseline (based on a growing region algorithm) still performed well as did the Faster R-CNN. All delineation methods generalized well and transferred to novel forests effectively. The best species classification method was based on a two-stage fully connected neural network, which significantly outperformed the baseline (a random forest and Gradient boosting ensemble). The classification methods generalized well, with all teams training their models using multiple sites simultaneously, but the predictions from these trained models generally failed to transfer effectively to a novel site. Classification performance was strongly influenced by the number of field-based species IDs available for training the models, with most methods predicting common species well at the training sites. Classification errors (i.e., species misidentification) were most common between similar species in the same genus and different species that occur in the same habitat. The best methods handled class imbalance well and learned unique spectral features even with limited data. Most methods performed better than baseline in detecting new (untrained) species, especially in the site with no training data. Our experience further shows that data science competitions are useful for comparing different methods through the use of a standardized dataset and set of evaluation criteria, which highlights promising approaches and common challenges, and therefore advances the ecological and remote sensing field as a whole.




S. Graves, S. Marconi, D. Stewart, I. Harmon, B. G. Weinstein, Y. Kanazawa, V. M Scholl, M. B. Joseph, J. McClinchy, L. Browne, M. K. Sullivan, S. Estrada-Villegas, D. Zhe Wang, A. Singh, S. A. Bohlman, A. Zare, E. P. White, “Data science competition for cross-site delineation and classification of individual trees from airborne remote sensing data.” PeerJ, 2023, doi: 10.7717/peerj.16578.
Title = {Data science competition for cross-site delineation and classification of individual trees from airborne remote sensing data}, 
Author = {Sarah Jane Graves, Sergio Marconi, Dylan Stewart, Ira Harmon, Ben G. Weinstein, Yuzi Kanazawa, Victoria M Scholl, Maxwell B Joseph, Joseph McClinchy, Luke Browne, Megan K Sullivan, Sergio Estrada-Villegas, Eduardo Tusa, Daisy Zhe Wang, Aditya Singh, Stephanie A Bohlman, Alina Zare, Ethan P. White},  
Journal = {}, 
Volume = {},  
Year = {Under Review},