Exploring Effective Detection and Spatial Pattern of Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia Genus) from Airborne Imagery before and after Prescribed Fires in the Edwards Plateau Academic Article uri icon


  • Over the past century, prickly pear (PP) cactus (e.g., genus Opuntia; subgenus Platyopuntia) has increased on semi-arid rangelands. Effective detection of cacti abundance and spatial pattern is challenging due to the inherent heterogeneity of rangeland landscapes. In this study, high-resolution multispectral imageries (0.21 m) were used to test object-based (OB) feature extraction, random forest (RF) machine learning, and spectral endmember (n-D) classification methods to map PP and evaluate its spatial pattern. We trained and tested classification methods using field-collected GPS location, plant cover, and spectrometry from 288 2 m radius polygons before a prescribed burn and 480 samples after the burn within a 69.2-ha burn unit. The most accurate classification method was then used to map PP distribution and quantify abundance before and after fire. As a case study, we assessed the spatial pattern of mapped PP cover, considering topoedaphic setting and burn conditions. The results showed that the endmember classification method, spectral angle mapper (SAM), outperformed the RF and OB classifications with higher kappa coefficients (KC) (0.93 vs. 0.82 and 0.23, respectively) and overall accuracies (OA) (0.96 vs. 0.91 and 0.49) from pre-fire imagery. KC and OA metrics of post-fire imagery were lower, but rankings among classification methods were similar. SAM classifications revealed that fire reduced PP abundance by 46.5%, but reductions varied by soil type, with deeper soils having greater decreases (61%). Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests indicated significant changes before and after fire in the frequency distribution of PP cover within deeper soils (D = 0.64, p = 0.02). A two-way ANOVA revealed that the interaction of season (pre- vs. post-fire) and soils significantly (p < 0.00001) influenced the spatial pattern of PP patches. Fire also reduced the size and shape of PP patches depending on the topoedaphic settings. This study provides an innovative and effective approach for integrating field data collection, remote sensing, and endmember classification methods to map prickly pear and assess the effects of prescribed fire on prickly pear spatial patterns. Accurate mapping of PP can aid in the design and implementation of spatially explicit rangeland management strategies, such as fire, that can help reduce and mitigate the ecological and economic impacts of prickly pear expansion.

published proceedings

  • Remote Sensing

author list (cited authors)

  • Jaime, X. A., Angerer, J. P., Yang, C., Walker, J., Mata, J., Tolleson, D. R., & Wu, X. B.

complete list of authors

  • Jaime, Xavier A||Angerer, Jay P||Yang, Chenghai||Walker, John||Mata, Jose||Tolleson, Doug R||Wu, X Ben