Intertidal benthic macroalgae are a biological quality indicator in estuaries and coasts. While remote sensing has been applied to quantify the spatial distribution of such macroalgae, it is generally not used for their monitoring. We examined the day-to-day and seasonal dynamics of macroalgal cover on a sandy intertidal flat using visible and near-infrared images from a time-lapse camera mounted on a tower. Benthic algae were identified using supervised, semi-supervised and unsupervised classification techniques, validated with monthly ground-truthing over one year. A supervised classification (based on maximum likelihood, using training areas identified in the field) performed best in discriminating between sediment, benthic diatom films and macroalgae, with highest spectral separability between macroalgae and diatoms in spring/summer. An automated unsupervised classification (based on the Normalised Differential Vegetation Index NDVI) allowed detection of daily changes in macroalgal coverage without the need for calibration. This method showed a bloom of macroalgae (filamentous green algae, Ulva sp.) in summer with >. 60% cover, but with pronounced superimposed day-to-day variation in cover. Waves were a major factor in regulating macroalgal cover, but regrowth of the thalli after a summer storm was fast (2. weeks). Images and in situ data demonstrated that the protruding tubes of the polychaete Lanice conchilega facilitated both settlement (anchorage) and survival (resistance to waves) of the macroalgae. Thus, high-frequency, high resolution images revealed the mechanisms for regulating the dynamics in cover of the macroalgae and for their spatial structuring. Ramifications for the mode, timing, frequency and evaluation of monitoring macroalgae by field and remote sensing surveys are discussed.
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