Remote sensing of the distribution and quality of subtropical C3 and C4 grasses.
Global climate change is expected to be accompanied by changes in the composition of plant functional types. Such changes are predicted to follow shifts in the percentage cover and abundance of grass species, following the C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways. These two groups differ in a number of physiological, structural and biochemical aspects. It is important to measure these characteristic properties because they affect ecosystem processes, such as nutrient cycling. High spectral and spatial resolution remote sensing systems have been proven to offer data, which can be used to accurately detect, classify and map plant species. The major challenge, however, is that the spectral reflectance data obtained over many narrow contiguous channels (i.e. hyperspectral data) represent multiple classes that are often mixed for a limited training-sample size. This is commonly referred to as the Hughes phenomenon or “the curse of dimensionality”. In the context of hyperspectral data analysis, the Hughes phenomenon often introduces a high degree of multicollinearity, which is caused by the use of highly-correlated spectral predictors. Multicollinearity is a prominent problem in processing hyperspectral data for vegetation applications, due to similarities in the spectral reflectance properties of biophysical and biochemical attributes. This study explored an innovative method to solve the problems associated with spectral dimensionality and the related multicollinearity, by developing a user-defined inter-band correlation filter function to resample hyperspectral data. The proposed resampling technique convolves the spectral dependence information between a chosen band-centre and its shorter and longer wavelength neighbours. The utility of the new resampling technique was assessed for discriminating C3 (Festuca costata) and C4 (Themeda triandra and Rendlia altera) grasses and for predicting their nutrient content (nitrogen, protein, moisture, and fibre), using partial least squares and random forest regressions. In general, results obtained showed that the user-defined inter-band correlation filter technique can mitigate the problem of multicollinearity in both classification and regression analyses. Wavebands in the shortwave infrared region were found to be very important in regression and classification analyses, using field spectra-only datasets. Next, the analyses were up-scaled from field spectra to the new generation multispectral satellite, WorldView-2 imagery, which was acquired for the Cathedral Peak region of the Drakensberg Mountains. The results obtained, showed that the WV2 image data contain useful information for classifying the C3 and C4 grasses and for predicting variability in their nitrogen and fibre concentrations. This study makes a contribution by developing a user-defined inter-band correlation filter to resample hyperspectral data, and thereby mitigating the high dimensionality and multicollinearity problems, in remote sensing applications involving C3 and C4 grass species or communities.