LiDAR derived ecological integrity indicators for riparian zones: Application to the Houille river in Southern Belgium/Northern France. Ecological Indicators 34, 627-640
Riparian zones are central landscape features providing several ecosystem services and are exceptionally rich in biodiversity. Despite their relatively low area coverage, riparian zones consequently represent a major concern for land and water resource managers confirmed within several European directives. These directives involve effective multi-scale monitoring to assess their conditions and their ability to carry out their functions. The objective of this research was to develop automated tools to provide from a single aerial LiDAR dataset new mapping tools and keystone riparian zone attributes assessing the ecological integrity of the riparian zone at a network scale (24 km reach).
Different metrics were extracted from the original LiDAR point cloud, notably the Digital Terrain Model and Canopy Height Model rasters, allowing the extraction of riparian zones attributes such as the wetted channel (0.89 m; mean residual) and floodplain extents (6.02 m; mean residual). Different riparian forest characteristics were directly extracted from these layers (patch extent, overhanging character, longitudinal continuity, relative water level, mean and relative standard deviation of tree height). Within the riparian forest, the coniferous stands were distinguished from deciduous and isolated trees, with high accuracy (87.3 %, Kappa Index).
Going further the mapping of the indicators, our study proposed an original approach to study the riparian zone attributes within different buffer width, from local scale (50 m long channel axis reach) to a network scale (ca 2 km long reaches), using a disaggregation/re-agraggation process. This novel approach, combined to graphical presentations of the results allow natural resource managers to visualise the variation of upstream-downstream attributes and to identify priority action areas.
In the case study, results showed a general decrease of the riparian forests when the river crosses built-up areas. They also highlighted the lower flooding frequency of riparian forest patches in habitats areas.
Those results showed that LiDAR data can be used to extract indicators of ecological integrity of riparian zones in temperate climate zone. They will enable the assessment of the ecological integrity of riparian zones to be undertaken at the regional scale (13000 km, completely covered by an aerial LIDAR survey in 2013).