Riparian zones in Australia are exposed to increasing pressures because of disturbance from agricultural and urban expansion, weed invasion, and overgrazing. Accurate and cost-effective mapping of riparian environments is important for assessing riparian zone functions associated with water quality, biodiversity, and wildlife habitats. The objective of this research was to compare the accuracy and costs of mapping riparian zone attributes from image data acquired by three different sensor types, i.e. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) (0.5–2.4 m pixels), and multi-spectral QuickBird (2.4 m pixels) and SPOT-5 (10 m pixels). These attributes included streambed width, riparian zone width, plant projective cover, longitudinal continuity, vegetation overhang, and bank stability. The riparian zone attributes were mapped for a study area along Mimosa Creek in the Fitzroy Catchment, Central Queensland, Australia. Object-based image and regression analyses were used for mapping the riparian zone attributes. The validation of the LiDAR, QuickBird, and SPOT-5 derived maps of streambed width (R = 0.99, 0.71, and 0.44 respectively) and riparian zone width (R = 0.91, 0.87, and 0.74 respectively) against field derived measurements produced the highest accuracies for the LiDAR data and the lowest using the SPOT-5 image data. Cross-validation estimates of misclassification produced a root mean square error of 1.06, 1.35 and 1.51 from an ordinal scale from 0 to 4 of the bank stability score for the LiDAR, QuickBird and SPOT-5 image data, respectively. The validation and empirical modelling showed high correlations for all datasets for mapping plant projective cover (R > 0.93). The SPOT-5 image data were unsuitable for assessment of riparian zone attributes at the spatial scale of Mimosa Creek and associated riparian zones. Cost estimates of image and field data acquisition and processing of the LiDAR, QuickBird, and SPOT-5 image data showed that discrete return LiDAR can be used for costs lower than those for QuickBird image data over large spatial extents (e.g. 26,000 km of streams). With the higher level of vegetation structural and landform information, mapping accuracies, geometric precision, and lower overall costs at large spatial extents, LiDAR data are a feasible means for assessment of riparian zone attributes.
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