Hasan Ahmed

and 2 more

Detection and monitoring of tropical forest degradation is crucial to climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation efforts. Several algorithms have been recently developed to monitor forest degradation and disturbance using remote sensing. However, these algorithms differ in local predictions due to the variation in the biogeophysical parameters used as degradation proxies. It is crucial to assess their relative performance and shortcomings in order to develop a clear understanding of the conditions under which each algorithm will detect a disturbance. In this study, we used GEDI lidar data on forest structure to examine the sensitivity of widely used forest disturbance and degradation products in a frontier tropical forest landscape in the Peruvian Amazon. We compared a leading spectral-based degradation algorithm (Continuous Degradation Detection (CODED)) with a radar-based algorithm (ALOS-2 PalSAR-2 based Radar Forest degradation Index (RFDI)). Given the sensitivity of radar to canopy cover and volume, we hypothesized that a single radar observation may detect degradation better than a long spectral time series. We first identified stable forests for reference structure in two ways: using disturbance stratification data from CODED, and using Peruvian protected areas. Our analysis showed that CODED performed below expectations in detecting forest degradation, often including patches that were regrowing after clear-felling in its “degraded” class. As CODED classified spectral changes over time rather than capturing structural variability, it classified 82% of palm plantations area as “degraded.” CODED also failed to detect degradation in forest areas that were likely partially disturbed (i.e., with low height and high cover). By contrast, the PalSAR-2 RFDI showed a significant relationship with forest height (detecting low height in degraded forests), although its predictive ability was limited due to high variability and signal saturation. Our study supports the conclusion that radar-based observation can detect forest degradation that the time series observation failed to detect. Given the limited correspondence between radar and spectral algorithms, we suggest that integrations of spectral and radar data may be beneficial for mapping forest degradation.