Highlights: Multispectral reflectance data showed a strong and spectrally correlated tree effect; There was no gain in species classification from using species-specific differences of directional reflectance in real data and only a marginal improvement in simulated data; The directional signatures extracted in multiple images are obscured by the intrinsic within-species variation, correlated observations and inherent reflectance calibration errors.
Tree species identification using optical remote sensing is challenging. Modern digital photogrammetric cameras enable radiometrically quantitative remote sensing and the estimation of reflectance images, in which the observations depend largely on the reflectance properties of targets. Previous research has shown that there are species-specific differences in how the brightness observed changes when the viewing direction in an aerial image is altered. We investigated if accounting for such directional signatures enhances species classification, using atmospherically corrected, real and simulated multispectral Leica ADS40 line-camera data. Canopy in direct and diffuse illumination were differentiated and species-specific variance-covariance structures were analyzed in real reflectance data, using mixed-effects modeling. Species classification simulations aimed at elucidating the level of accuracy that can be achieved by using images of different quality, number and view-illumination geometry. In real data, a substantial variance component was explained by tree effect, which demonstrates that observations from a tree correlate between observation geometries as well as spectrally. Near-infrared band showed the strongest tree effect, while the directionality was weak in that band. The gain from directional signatures was insignificant in real data, while simulations showed a potential gain of 1–3 percentage points in species classification accuracy. The quality of reflectance calibration was found to be important as well as the image acquisition geometry. We conclude that increasing the number of image observations cancels out random observation noise and reflectance calibration errors, but fails to eliminate the tree effect and systematic calibration inaccuracy. Directional reflectance constitutes a marginal improvement in tree species classification.