Model selection in Bayesian framework to identify the best WorldView-2 based vegetation index in predicting green biomass of salt marshes in the northern Gulf of Mexico
Coastal wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems globally but have experienced dramatic degradation and loss within the past several decades. Vegetation biomass of coastal wetlands is not only the key component of blue carbon storage but also plays an important role in vertical accretion, important for maintaining these habitats under relative sea-level rise. Remote sensing offers a cost-effective approach to study vegetation biomass at a broad spatial scale. We developed statistical models to predict peak aboveground green biomass of Spartina alterniflora and Juncus roemerianus, two dominant species of salt marshes using WorldView-2 satellite imagery at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) on the Mississippi coast in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The model accounted for nested data structures in the sampled biomass, assimilated uncertainties from data, parameters and model structures, and helped determine the best vegetation index among a variety of commonly-used indices to predict aboveground green biomass. We developed a series of mixed-effects models, which included different combinations of fixed effect(s), random intercept, and random slope(s). The fixed effects were species and one of the 60 vegetation indices derived from a WorldView-2 image obtained on 6 October 2012. The random effect used was site. We implemented the models in a Bayesian framework and selected the best model structure and vegetation index based on minimum posterior predictive loss and deviance information criterion. The results showed that the best vegetation index to predict peak green biomass was the green chlorophyll index derived from the reflectance values of band 8 (near-infrared) and band 3 (green), and its effect on biomass prediction varied among sites. The inclusion of species as a fixed effect improved the model prediction. The study demonstrated the need to account for spatial dependence of data in developing a robust model, and the importance of the second WorldView-2 near-infrared band (860–1040 nm) in predicting aboveground green biomass for the Grand Bay NERR. The analysis using mixed-effects modeling in Bayesian inference which coherently combined field and WorldView-2 data with uncertainties accounted for provides a robust and nondestructive tool for resource managers to monitor the status of coastal wetlands at a high spatial resolution in a timely manner. Through this study, we hope to emphasize the importance of appropriately accounting for nested data structures using mixed-effects models and promote wider application of Bayesian inference to facilitate assimilation of uncertainties in remote sensing applications.