Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 185, Issue 6, pp 5345-5360

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Uncertainties of forest area estimates caused by the minimum crown cover criterion

—a scale issue relevant to forest cover monitoring
  • Paul MagdonAffiliated withChair of Forest Inventory and Remote Sensing, Burckhardt-Institute, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen Email author 
  • , Christoph KleinnAffiliated withChair of Forest Inventory and Remote Sensing, Burckhardt-Institute, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen


Defining “forest land” is a complex issue and has been discussed for decades. Today, a confusing multitude of definitions of forest land are in use making comparison of forest area figures difficult. But currently, comparability is receiving much attention when it comes to install market mechanisms for ecosystem services. Minimum crown cover is among the most frequently employed criteria of forest definitions. However, the size of the reference area on which the crown cover percent is to be measured is usually not defined. But how does a change of the size of the reference area affect the derived forest cover? In this study, we analyze the interactions of the crown cover threshold and the size of the reference area. We start with analyzing the interactions using a simple geometric model of the forest edge. Then, we extend the analysis by simulating artificial landscapes where we study how the interaction is affected by different degrees of forest fragmentation, crown cover proportion, and spatial resolution of the data source used. The simulation showed that large differences in forest cover (>50 %) may result for a fixed crown cover threshold value, just by changing the size of the reference area, where the magnitude of this effect is a function of the chosen threshold value and the spatial configuration of the crowns. As a consequence of the findings, we see an urgent need to complete forest definitions by defining a reference area in order to reduce uncertainties of forest cover estimates.


Forest definition REDD Deforestation MRV Harmonization Forest edge