Performance of non-parametric algorithms for spatial mapping of tropical forest structure.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:Mapping tropical forest structure is a critical requirement for accurate estimation of emissions and removals from land use activities. With the availability of a wide range of remote sensing imagery of vegetation characteristics from space, development of finer resolution and more accurate maps has advanced in recent years. However, the mapping accuracy relies heavily on the quality of input layers, the algorithm chosen, and the size and quality of inventory samples for calibration and validation. RESULTS:By using airborne lidar data as the "truth" and focusing on the mean canopy height (MCH) as a key structural parameter, we test two commonly-used non-parametric techniques of maximum entropy (ME) and random forest (RF) for developing maps over a study site in Central Gabon. Results of mapping show that both approaches have improved accuracy with more input layers in mapping canopy height at 100 m (1-ha) pixels. The bias-corrected spatial models further improve estimates for small and large trees across the tails of height distributions with a trade-off in increasing overall mean squared error that can be readily compensated by increasing the sample size. CONCLUSIONS:A significant improvement in tropical forest mapping can be achieved by weighting the number of inventory samples against the choice of image layers and the non-parametric algorithms. Without future satellite observations with better sensitivity to forest biomass, the maps based on existing data will remain slightly biased towards the mean of the distribution and under and over estimating the upper and lower tails of the distribution.
Project description:Tropical forests convert more atmospheric carbon into biomass each year than any terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, underscoring the importance of accurate tropical forest structure and biomass maps for the understanding and management of the global carbon cycle. Ecologists have long used field inventory plots as the main tool for understanding forest structure and biomass at landscape-to-regional scales, under the implicit assumption that these plots accurately represent their surrounding landscape. However, no study has used continuous, high-spatial-resolution data to test whether field plots meet this assumption in tropical forests. Using airborne LiDAR (light detection and ranging) acquired over three regions in Peru, we assessed how representative a typical set of field plots are relative to their surrounding host landscapes. We uncovered substantial mean biases (9-98%) in forest canopy structure (height, gaps, and layers) and aboveground biomass in both lowland Amazonian and montane Andean landscapes. Moreover, simulations reveal that an impractical number of 1-ha field plots (from 10 to more than 100 per landscape) are needed to develop accurate estimates of aboveground biomass at landscape scales. These biases should temper the use of plots for extrapolations of forest dynamics to larger scales, and they demonstrate the need for a fundamental shift to high-resolution active remote sensing techniques as a primary sampling tool in tropical forest biomass studies. The potential decrease in the bias and uncertainty of remotely sensed estimates of forest structure and biomass is a vital step toward successful tropical forest conservation and climate-change mitigation policy.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Mapping the aboveground biomass of tropical forests is essential both for implementing conservation policy and reducing uncertainties in the global carbon cycle. Two medium resolution (500 m - 1000 m) pantropical maps of vegetation biomass have been recently published, and have been widely used by sub-national and national-level activities in relation to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Both maps use similar input data layers, and are driven by the same spaceborne LiDAR dataset providing systematic forest height and canopy structure estimates, but use different ground datasets for calibration and different spatial modelling methodologies. Here, we compare these two maps to each other, to the FAO's Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) 2010 country-level data, and to a high resolution (100 m) biomass map generated for a portion of the Colombian Amazon. RESULTS: We find substantial differences between the two maps, in particular in central Amazonia, the Congo basin, the south of Papua New Guinea, the Miombo woodlands of Africa, and the dry forests and savannas of South America. There is little consistency in the direction of the difference. However, when the maps are aggregated to the country or biome scale there is greater agreement, with differences cancelling out to a certain extent. When comparing country level biomass stocks, the two maps agree with each other to a much greater extent than to the FRA 2010 estimates. In the Colombian Amazon, both pantropical maps estimate higher biomass than the independent high resolution map, but show a similar spatial distribution of this biomass. CONCLUSIONS: Biomass mapping has progressed enormously over the past decade, to the stage where we can produce globally consistent maps of aboveground biomass. We show that there are still large uncertainties in these maps, in particular in areas with little field data. However, when used at a regional scale, different maps appear to converge, suggesting we can provide reasonable stock estimates when aggregated over large regions. Therefore we believe the largest uncertainties for REDD+ activities relate to the spatial distribution of biomass and to the spatial pattern of forest cover change, rather than to total globally or nationally summed carbon density.
Project description:There is currently much interest in developing general approaches for mapping forest aboveground carbon density using structural information contained in airborne LiDAR data. The most widely utilized model in tropical forests assumes that aboveground carbon density is a compound power function of top of canopy height (a metric easily derived from LiDAR), basal area and wood density. Here we derive the model in terms of the geometry of individual tree crowns within forest stands, showing how scaling exponents in the aboveground carbon density model arise from the height-diameter (H-D) and projected crown area-diameter (C-D) allometries of individual trees. We show that a power function relationship emerges when the C-D scaling exponent is close to 2, or when tree diameters follow a Weibull distribution (or other specific distributions) and are invariant across the landscape. In addition, basal area must be closely correlated with canopy height for the approach to work. The efficacy of the model was explored for a managed uneven-aged temperate forest in Ontario, Canada within which stands dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) and mixed stands were identified. A much poorer goodness-of-fit was obtained than previously reported for tropical forests (R2 = 0.29 vs. about 0.83). Explanations for the poor predictive power on the model include: (1) basal area was only weakly correlated with top canopy height; (2) tree size distributions varied considerably across the landscape; (3) the allometry exponents are affected by variation in species composition arising from timber management and soil conditions; and (4) the C-D allometric power function was far from 2 (1.28). We conclude that landscape heterogeneity in forest structure and tree allometry reduces the accuracy of general power-function models for predicting aboveground carbon density in managed forests. More studies in different forest types are needed to understand the situations in which power functions of LiDAR height are appropriate for modelling forest carbon stocks.
Project description:The accurate mapping of forest carbon stocks is essential for understanding the global carbon cycle, for assessing emissions from deforestation, and for rational land-use planning. Remote sensing (RS) is currently the key tool for this purpose, but RS does not estimate vegetation biomass directly, and thus may miss significant spatial variations in forest structure. We test the stated accuracy of pantropical carbon maps using a large independent field dataset.Tropical forests of the Amazon basin. The permanent archive of the field plot data can be accessed at: http://dx.doi.org/10.5521/FORESTPLOTS.NET/2014_1.Two recent pantropical RS maps of vegetation carbon are compared to a unique ground-plot dataset, involving tree measurements in 413 large inventory plots located in nine countries. The RS maps were compared directly to field plots, and kriging of the field data was used to allow area-based comparisons.The two RS carbon maps fail to capture the main gradient in Amazon forest carbon detected using 413 ground plots, from the densely wooded tall forests of the north-east, to the light-wooded, shorter forests of the south-west. The differences between plots and RS maps far exceed the uncertainties given in these studies, with whole regions over- or under-estimated by > 25%, whereas regional uncertainties for the maps were reported to be < 5%.Pantropical biomass maps are widely used by governments and by projects aiming to reduce deforestation using carbon offsets, but may have significant regional biases. Carbon-mapping techniques must be revised to account for the known ecological variation in tree wood density and allometry to create maps suitable for carbon accounting. The use of single relationships between tree canopy height and above-ground biomass inevitably yields large, spatially correlated errors. This presents a significant challenge to both the forest conservation and remote sensing communities, because neither wood density nor species assemblages can be reliably mapped from space.
Project description:National forest inventories in tropical regions are sparse and have large uncertainty in capturing the physiographical variations of forest carbon across landscapes. Here, we produce for the first time the spatial patterns of carbon stored in forests of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by using airborne LiDAR inventory of more than 432,000?ha of forests based on a designed probability sampling methodology. The LiDAR mean top canopy height measurements were trained to develop an unbiased carbon estimator by using 92 1-ha ground plots distributed across key forest types in DRC. LiDAR samples provided estimates of mean and uncertainty of aboveground carbon density at provincial scales and were combined with optical and radar satellite imagery in a machine learning algorithm to map forest height and carbon density over the entire country. By using the forest definition of DRC, we found a total of 23.3?±?1.6 GtC carbon with a mean carbon density of 140?±?9 MgC ha-1 in the aboveground and belowground live trees. The probability based LiDAR samples capture variations of structure and carbon across edaphic and climate conditions, and provide an alternative approach to national ground inventory for efficient and precise assessment of forest carbon resources for emission reduction (ER) programs.
Project description:Phyllosphere fungi harbor a tremendous species diversity and play important ecological roles. However, little is known about their distribution patterns within forest ecosystems. We examined how species diversity and community composition of phyllosphere fungi change along a vertical structure in a tropical forest in Thailand. Fungal communities in 144 leaf samples from 19 vertical layers (1.28-34.4 m above ground) of 73 plant individuals (27 species) were investigated by metabarcoding analysis using Ion Torrent sequencing. In total, 1,524 fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were detected among 890,710 reads obtained from the 144 leaf samples. Taxonomically diverse fungi belonging to as many as 24 orders of Ascomycota and 21 orders of Basidiomycota were detected, most of which inhabited limited parts of the lowest layers closest to the forest floor. Species diversity of phyllosphere fungi was the highest in the lowest layers closest to the forest floor, decreased with increasing height, and lowest in the canopy; 742 and 55 fungal OTUs were detected at the lowest and highest layer, respectively. On the layers close to the forest floor, phyllosphere fungal communities were mainly composed of low frequency OTUs and largely differentiated among plant individuals. Conversely, in the canopy, fungal communities consisted of similar OTUs across plant individuals, and as many as 86.1%-92.7% of the OTUs found in the canopy (?22 m above ground) were also distributed in the lower layers. Overall, our study showed the variability of phyllosphere fungal communities along the vertical gradient of plant vegetation and environmental conditions, suggesting the significance of biotic and abiotic variation for the species diversity of phyllosphere fungi.
Project description:An understanding of the spatial variability in tropical forest structure and biomass, and the mechanisms that underpin this variability, is critical for designing, interpreting, and upscaling field studies for regional carbon inventories. We investigated the spatial structure of tropical forest vegetation and its relationship to the hydrological network and associated topographic structure across spatial scales of 10-1000 m using high-resolution maps of LiDAR-derived mean canopy profile height (MCH) and elevation for 4930 ha of tropical forest in central Panama. MCH was strongly associated with the hydrological network: canopy height was highest in areas of positive convexity (valleys, depressions) close to channels draining 1 ha or more. Average MCH declined strongly with decreasing convexity (transition to ridges, hilltops) and increasing distance from the nearest channel. Spectral analysis, performed with wavelet decomposition, showed that the variance in MCH had fractal similarity at scales of ?30-600 m, and was strongly associated with variation in elevation, with peak correlations at scales of ?250 m. Whereas previous studies of topographic correlates of tropical forest structure conducted analyses at just one or a few spatial grains, our study found that correlations were strongly scale-dependent. Multi-scale analyses of correlations of MCH with slope, aspect, curvature, and Laplacian convexity found that MCH was most strongly related to convexity measured at scales of 20-300 m, a topographic variable that is a good proxy for position with respect to the hydrological network. Overall, our results support the idea that, even in these mesic forests, hydrological networks and associated topographical variation serve as templates upon which vegetation is organized over specific ranges of scales. These findings constitute an important step towards a mechanistic understanding of these patterns, and can guide upscaling and downscaling.
Project description:Surveying primary tropical forest over large regions is challenging. Indirect methods of relating terrain information or other external spatial datasets to forest biophysical parameters can provide forest structural maps at large scales but the inherent uncertainties need to be evaluated fully. The goal of the present study was to evaluate relief characteristics, measured through geomorphometric variables, as predictors of forest structural characteristics such as average tree basal area (BA) and height (H) and average percentage canopy openness (CO). Our hypothesis is that geomorphometric variables are good predictors of the structure of primary tropical forest, even in areas, with low altitude variation. The study was performed at the Tapajós National Forest, located in the Western State of Pará, Brazil. Forty-three plots were sampled. Predictive models for BA, H and CO were parameterized based on geomorphometric variables using multiple linear regression. Validation of the models with nine independent sample plots revealed a Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) of 3.73 m2/ha (20%) for BA, 1.70 m (12%) for H, and 1.78% (21%) for CO. The coefficient of determination between observed and predicted values were r2 = 0.32 for CO, r2 = 0.26 for H and r2 = 0.52 for BA. The models obtained were able to adequately estimate BA and CO. In summary, it can be concluded that relief variables are good predictors of vegetation structure and enable the creation of forest structure maps in primary tropical rainforest with an acceptable uncertainty.
Project description:Avian diversity is under increasing pressures. It is thus critical to understand the ecological variables that contribute to large scale spatial distribution of avian species diversity. Traditionally, studies have relied primarily on two-dimensional habitat structure to model broad scale species richness. Vegetation vertical structure is increasingly used at local scales. However, the spatial arrangement of vegetation height has never been taken into consideration. Our goal was to examine the efficacies of three-dimensional forest structure, particularly the spatial heterogeneity of vegetation height in improving avian richness models across forested ecoregions in the U.S. We developed novel habitat metrics to characterize the spatial arrangement of vegetation height using the National Biomass and Carbon Dataset for the year 2000 (NBCD). The height-structured metrics were compared with other habitat metrics for statistical association with richness of three forest breeding bird guilds across Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) routes: a broadly grouped woodland guild, and two forest breeding guilds with preferences for forest edge and for interior forest. Parametric and non-parametric models were built to examine the improvement of predictability. Height-structured metrics had the strongest associations with species richness, yielding improved predictive ability for the woodland guild richness models (r(2) = ? 0.53 for the parametric models, 0.63 the non-parametric models) and the forest edge guild models (r(2) = ? 0.34 for the parametric models, 0.47 the non-parametric models). All but one of the linear models incorporating height-structured metrics showed significantly higher adjusted-r2 values than their counterparts without additional metrics. The interior forest guild richness showed a consistent low association with height-structured metrics. Our results suggest that height heterogeneity, beyond canopy height alone, supplements habitat characterization and richness models of forest bird species. The metrics and models derived in this study demonstrate practical examples of utilizing three-dimensional vegetation data for improved characterization of spatial patterns in species richness.
Project description:Background:Competitive interactions in biological communities can be thought of as giving rise to "assembly rules" that dictate the species that are able to co-exist. Ant communities in tropical canopies often display a particular pattern, an "ant mosaic", in which competition between dominant ant species results in a patchwork of mutually exclusive territories. Although ant mosaics have been well-documented in plantation landscapes, their presence in pristine tropical forests remained contentious until recently. Here we assess presence of ant mosaics in a hitherto under-investigated forest stratum, the emergent trees of the high canopy in primary tropical rain forest, and explore how the strength of any ant mosaics is affected by spatial scale, time of day, and sampling method. Methods:To test whether these factors might impact the detection of ant mosaics in pristine habitats, we sampled ant communities from emergent trees, which rise above the highest canopy layers in lowland dipterocarp rain forests in North Borneo (38.8-60.2 m), using both baiting and insecticide fogging. Critically, we restricted sampling to only the canopy of each focal tree. For baiting, we carried out sampling during both the day and the night. We used null models of species co-occurrence to assess patterns of segregation at within-tree and between-tree scales. Results:The numerically dominant ant species on the emergent trees sampled formed a diverse community, with differences in the identity of dominant species between times of day and sampling methods. Between trees, we found patterns of ant species segregation consistent with the existence of ant mosaics using both methods. Within trees, fogged ants were segregated, while baited ants were segregated only at night. Discussion:We conclude that ant mosaics are present within the emergent trees of the high canopy of tropical rain forest in Malaysian Borneo, and that sampling technique, spatial scale, and time of day interact to determine observed patterns of segregation. Restricting sampling to only emergent trees reveals segregatory patterns not observed in ground-based studies, confirming previous observations of stronger segregation with increasing height in the canopy.