, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 17–28 | Cite as

Fine-Scale Mapping of Coastal Plant Communities in the Northeastern USA

  • Maureen D. CorrellEmail author
  • Wouter Hantson
  • Thomas P. Hodgman
  • Brittany B. Cline
  • Chris S. Elphick
  • W. Gregory Shriver
  • Elizabeth L. Tymkiw
  • Brian J. Olsen
Applied Wetland Science


Salt marshes of the northeastern United States are dynamic landscapes where the tidal flooding regime creates patterns of plant zonation based on differences in elevation, salinity, and local hydrology. These patterns of zonation can change quickly due to both natural and anthropogenic stressors, making tidal marshes vulnerable to degradation and loss. We compared several remote sensing techniques to develop a tool that accurately maps high- and low-marsh zonation to use in management and conservation planning for this ecosystem in the northeast USA. We found that random forests (RF) outperformed other classifier tools when applied to the most recent National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery, NAIP derivatives, and elevation data between coastal Maine and Virginia, USA. We then used RF methods to classify plant zonation within a 500-m buffer around coastal marsh delineated in the National Wetland Inventory. We found mean classification accuracies of 94% for high marsh, 76% for low marsh zones, and 90% overall map accuracy. The detailed output is a 3-m resolution continuous map of tidal marsh vegetation communities and cover classes that can be used in habitat modeling of marsh-obligate species or to monitor changes in marsh plant communities over time.


High marsh NAIP Random Forest Remote sensing Spartina Tidal marsh 



This work was made possible through financial support from the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Northeast Region Science Applications (#24), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch Project Number ME0-21710 through the Maine Agricultural & Forest Experiment Station. This is Maine State Agricultural and Forest Experimentation Station Publication # 3590. We would like to thank all Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program (SHARP) field technicians who collected field training data for this effort, and all participating landowners that allowed access to their properties for surveying. We also thank Janet Leese for countless hours spent digitizing training polygons in the lab. Comments from Erin and Kasey Legaard, D. Rosco, N. Hanson, and the Olsen Lab substantially improved the methods described here.

Supplementary material

13157_2018_1028_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maureen D. Correll
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Wouter Hantson
    • 1
  • Thomas P. Hodgman
    • 3
  • Brittany B. Cline
    • 1
    • 4
  • Chris S. Elphick
    • 5
  • W. Gregory Shriver
    • 4
  • Elizabeth L. Tymkiw
    • 4
  • Brian J. Olsen
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biology and EcologyThe University of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.Bird Conservancy of the RockiesFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and WildlifeBangorUSA
  4. 4.Department of Entomology and Wildlife EcologyThe University of DelawareNewarkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Center for Conservation and BiodiversityUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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