Satellites Zoom In On Invasive Plants In Greater Cincinnati

Sep 8, 2020

It's hard to believe an ornamental shrub from Asia could cause so many problems in U.S. forests. But the Amur honeysuckle and other invasive plants have spread across the country - including in Hamilton County - and are leading to a monoculture in many places by choking out other species.

But University of Cincinnati researchers have a new tool in their ecological restoration: satellite mapping. At five urban forests in Greater Cincinnati, the satellite imagery helped them see exactly where Amur honeysuckle is.

Using a Landsat-8 satellite, they can measure the reflection of wavelength energy in the red and near infrared bands. This ratio helps identify the foliage of plants while in orbit. GPS showed the maps were 82% accurate.

UC graduate Bridget Taylor did much of the research and says satellite mapping is an inexpensive alternative to using drones and ground surveys. "It's important to know special coverage so you can know where best to put your time and energy," she says.

UC Biology Professor Denis Conover holds up a branch of the invasive Amur honeysuckle with his "Classification of flowering plants" class in the background at Burnet Woods.
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU

UC Biology Professor Denis Conover says Amur honeysuckle is the most abundant woody plant in Hamilton County. During a hike at Burnet Woods, he pointed it out and explained how each red berry has eight seeds and the birds eat the seeds and then poop them out.

"Where you had hundreds or thousands of species before, you wind up with basically a monoculture of Amur honeysuckle," he says.

Conover says the satellite imagery could be helpful in identifying other invasive species like wintercreeper, English ivy and porcelain-berry.

UC Geography Professor Richard Beck was also involved in the project.

Their research is published in Ecological Restoration.