Deep learning detects invasive plant species across complex landscapes using Worldview-2 and Planetscope satellite imagery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective management of invasive species requires rapid detection and dynamic monitoring. Remote sensing offers an efficient alternative to field surveys for invasive plants; however, distinguishing individual plant species can be challenging especially over geographic scales. Satellite imagery is the most practical source of data for developing predictive models over landscapes, but spatial resolution and spectral information can be limiting. We used two types of satellite imagery to detect the invasive plant, leafy spurge (Euphorbia virgata), across a heterogeneous landscape in Minnesota, USA. We developed convolutional neural networks (CNNs) with imagery from Worldview-2 and Planetscope satellites. Worldview-2 imagery has high spatial and spectral resolution, but images are not routinely taken in space or time. By contrast, Planetscope imagery has lower spatial and spectral resolution, but images are taken daily across Earth. The former had 96.1% accuracy in detecting leafy spurge, whereas the latter had 89.9% accuracy. Second, we modified the CNN for Planetscope with a long short-term memory (LSTM) layer that leverages information on phenology from a time series of images. The detection accuracy of the Planetscope LSTM model was 96.3%, on par with the high resolution, Worldview-2 model. Across models, most false-positive errors occurred near true populations, indicating that these errors are not consequential for management. We identified that early and mid-season phenological periods in the Planetscope time series were key to predicting leafy spurge. Additionally, green, red-edge and near-infrared spectral bands were important for differentiating leafy spurge from other vegetation. These findings suggest that deep learning models can accurately identify individual species over complex landscapes even with satellite imagery of modest spatial and spectral resolution if a temporal series of images is incorporated. Our results will help inform future management efforts using remote sensing to identify invasive plants, especially across large-scale, remote and data-sparse areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRemote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative‐Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). We thank the Maxar Technologies and the European Space Agency for providing access to Worldview‐2 satellite imagery (Proposal Id: 63324). We gratefully acknowledge the support of NVIDIA Corporation for the donation of the Titan V GPU used for this research. We thank Rob Venette and Naomi Schwartz for early discussions about ideas in this manuscript as well as Christian Klatt for records of leafy spurge. We also thank Lex Flagel for early review and discussions of deep learning.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Zoological Society of London.


  • Convolutional neural network
  • Euphorbia esula
  • invasive species
  • phenology
  • recurrent neural networks
  • satellite image time series


Dive into the research topics of 'Deep learning detects invasive plant species across complex landscapes using Worldview-2 and Planetscope satellite imagery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this