Forest tree species distribution for Europe 2000–2020: mapping potential and realized distributions using spatiotemporal machine learning

Carmelo Bonannella*, Tomislav Hengl, Johannes Heisig, Leandro Parente, Marvin N. Wright, Martin Herold, Sytze De Bruin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This article describes a data-driven framework based on spatiotemporal machine learning to produce distribution maps for 16 tree species (Abies alba Mill., Castaneasativa Mill., Corylus avellana L., Fagus sylvatica L., Olea europaea L., Picea abies L. H.Karst., Pinus halepensis Mill., Pinus nigra J. F. Arnold, Pinus pinea L., Pinus sylvestrisL., Prunus avium L., Quercus cerris L., Quercus ilex L., Quercus robur L., Quercuss uber L. and Salix caprea L.) at high spatial resolution (30 m). Tree occurrence datafor a total of three million of points was used to train different algorithms: random forest, gradient-boosted trees, generalized linear models, k-nearest neighbors, CART and an artificial neural network. A stack of 305 coarse and high resolution covariates representing spectral reflectance, different biophysical conditions and biotic competition was used as predictors for realized distributions, while potential distribution was modelled with environmental predictors only. Logloss and computing time were used to select the three best algorithms to tune and train an ensemble model based on stacking with a logistic regressor as a meta-learner.An ensemble model was trained for each species: probability and model uncertainty maps of realized distribution were produced for each species using a time window of4 years for a total of six distribution maps per species, while for potential distributions only one map per species was produced. Results of spatial cross validation show that the ensemble model consistently outperformed or performed as good as the best individual model in both potential and realized distribution tasks,with potential distribution models achieving higher predictive performances(TSS = 0.898, R 2logloss = 0.857) than realized distribution ones on average(TSS = 0.874, R 2logloss = 0.839). Ensemble models for Q. suber achieved the best performances in both potential (TSS = 0.968, R2logloss = 0.952) and realized(TSS = 0.959, R 2logloss = 0.949) distribution, while P. sylvestris (TSS = 0.731, 0.785,R 2logloss = 0.585, 0.670, respectively, for potential and realized distribution) and P. nigra (TSS = 0.658, 0.686, R 2logloss = 0.623, 0.664) achieved the worst. Importance of predictor variables differed across species and models, with the green band for summer and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for fall for realized distribution and the diffuse irradiation and precipitation of the driest quarter(BIO17) being the most frequent and important for potential distribution.On average, fine-resolution models outperformed coarse resolution models (250 m)for realized distribution (TSS = +6.5%, R 2logloss = +7.5%). The framework shows how combining continuous and consistent Earth Observation time series data with state of the art machine learning can be used to derive dynamic distribution maps.The produced predictions can be used to quantify temporal trends of potential forest degradation and species composition change.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13728
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2022


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