An alternative approach to using LiDAR remote sensing data to predict stem diameter distributions across a temperate forest landscape

09 Mar 2018

© 2017 by the authors. We apply a spatially-implicit, allometry-based modelling approach to predict stem diameter distributions (SDDs) from low density airborne LiDAR data in a heterogeneous, temperate forest in Ontario, Canada. Using a recently published algorithm that relates the density, size, and species of individual trees to the height distribution of first returns, we estimated parameters that succinctly describe SDDs that are most consistent with each 0.25-ha LiDAR tile across a 30,000 ha forest landscape. Tests with independent validation plots showed that the diameter distribution of stems was predicted with reasonable accuracy in most cases (half of validation plots had R2 ≥ 0.75, and another 23% had 0.5 ≤ R2 < 0.75). The predicted frequency of larger stems was much better than that of small stems (8 ≤ x < 11 cm diameter), particularly small conifers. We used the predicted SDDs to calculate aboveground carbon density (ACD; RMSE = 21.4 Mg C/ha), quadratic mean diameter (RMSE = 3.64 cm), basal area (RMSE = 6.99 m2/ha) and stem number (RMSE = 272 stems/ha). The accuracy of our predictions compared favorably with previous studies that have generally been undertaken in simpler conifer-dominated forest types. We demonstrate the utility of our results to spatial forest management planning by mapping SDDs, the proportion of broadleaves, and ACD at a 0.25 ha resolution.