Deakin University

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Nonparametric machine learning for mapping forest cover and exploring influential factors

journal contribution
posted on 2020-07-01, 00:00 authored by B Liu, L Gao, B Li, R Marcos-Martinez, Brett BryanBrett Bryan
Context: The contribution of forest ecosystem services to human well-being varies over space following the dynamics in forest cover. Use of machine learning models is increasing in projecting forest cover changes and investigating the drivers, yet references are still lacking for selecting machine learning models for spatial projection of forest cover patterns. Objectives: We assessed the ability of nonparametric machine learning techniques to project the spatial distribution of forest cover and identify its drivers using a case study of Tasmania, Australia. Methods: We developed, evaluated, and compared the performance of four nonparametric machine learning models: support vector regression (SVR), artificial neural networks (ANN), random forest (RF), and gradient boosted regression trees (GBRT). Results: The results demonstrated that RF far outperformed the other three models in both fitting and projection accuracy, and required less computional costs. GBRT outperformed SVR and ANN in projection accuracy. However, RF exhibited serious overfitting due to the full growth of its decision trees. The influence rankings of explanatory variables on spatial patterns of forest cover were different under the four models. Land tenure type and rainfall were identified among the top four most influential variables by all four models. The ranking produced by the RF model was significantly different with topographic factors associated with land clearing and production costs (elevation and distance to timber facilities) being the two most influential variables. Conclusions: We encourage practitioners to consider nonparametric machine learning methods, especially RF, when facing problems of complex environmental data modelling.



Landscape ecology




1683 - 1699




Dordrecht, the Netherlands







Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

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2020, Springer Nature B.V.