A Voxel-Based Individual Tree Stem Detection Method Using Airborne LiDAR in Mature Northeastern U.S. Forests

Jeff L. Hershey, Marc E. McDill, Douglas A. Miller, Brennan Holderman, Judd H. Michael

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This paper describes a new method for detecting individual tree stems that was designed to perform well in the challenging hardwood-dominated, mixed-species forests common to the northeastern U.S., where canopy height-based methods have proven unreliable. Most prior research in individual tree detection has been performed in homogenous coniferous or conifer-dominated forests with limited hardwood presence. The study area in central Pennsylvania, United States, includes 17+ tree species and contains over 90% hardwoods. Existing methods have shown reduced performance as the proportion of hardwood species increases, due in large part to the crown-focused approaches they have employed. Top-down approaches are not reliable in deciduous stands due to the inherent complexity of the canopy and tree crowns in such stands. This complexity makes it difficult to segment trees and accurately predict tree stem locations based on detected crown segments. The proposed voxel column-based approach has advantages over both traditional canopy height model-based methods and computationally demanding point-based solutions. The method was tested on 1125 reference trees, ≥10 cm diameter at breast height (DBH), and it detected 68% of all reference trees and 87% of medium and large (sawtimber-sized) trees ≥28 cm DBH. Significantly, the commission rate (false predictions) was negligible as most raw false positives were confirmed in follow-up field visits to be either small trees below the threshold for recording or trees that were otherwise missed during the initial ground survey. Minimizing false positives was a priority in tuning the method. Follow-up in-situ evaluation of individual omission and commission instances was facilitated by the high spatial accuracy of predicted tree locations generated by the method. The mean and maximum predicted-to-reference tree distances were 0.59 m and 2.99 m, respectively, with over 80% of matches within <1 m. A new tree-matching method utilizing linear integer programming is presented that enables rigorous, repeatable matching of predicted and reference trees and performance evaluation. Results indicate this new tree detection method has potential to be operationalized for both traditional forest management activities and in providing the more frequent and scalable inventories required by a growing forest carbon offsets industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number806
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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