UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Enhancing the Estimation of Stem-Size Distributions for Unimodal and Bimodal Stands in a Boreal Mixedwood Forest with Airborne Laser Scanning Data Mulverhill, Christopher; Coops, Nicholas C.; White, Joanne C.; Tompalski, Piotr; Marshall, Peter Lawrence, 1953-; Bailey, Todd


Stem size distribution (SSD), which describes tree frequencies in diameter classes within an area, has a variety of direct and indirect applications that are critical for forest management. In this study, we evaluated which structural characteristics derived from Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) data were best able to differentiate between unimodal and bimodal stands in a managed boreal mixedwood forest in Alberta, Canada. We then used wall-to-wall ALS data to predict (for 20 m-by-20 m grid cells) the parameters of a Weibull SSD in unimodal cells, and a Finite Mixture Model (FMM) in bimodal cells. The resulting SSDs were evaluated for their fit to ground plot-measured SSDs using an Error Index (EI). We found that the variance of ALS return heights was the best metric for differentiating between unimodal and bimodal stands, with a classification accuracy of 77%. Parameters of both the Weibull and FMM distributions were accurately predicted (r2 ~ 0.5, Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) ~ 30%), and that differentiating for modality prior to estimating SSD improved the accuracy of estimates (EI of 49.13 with differentiation versus 51.31 without differentiation). Unique to our presented approach is the stratification by SSD modality prior to the modelling of distributions. To achieve this, we apply a threshold to an ALS metric that allows SSD modality to be distinguished for each cell at the landscape level, and this a priori information is then used to ensure that the appropriate distribution is modelled. Our approach is parsimonious and efficient, enabling improved accuracy in SSD estimation across diverse landscapes when ALS data is the sole data source.

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