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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Characterizing the link between fire history, productivity, and forest structure across Canada’s northern boreal using multi-source remote sensing Bolton, Douglas Kane


Forest structure is an important indicator of ecosystem function and carbon storage in above-ground biomass, yet observations of forest structure are scarce across Canada’s unmanaged bo-real. To reduce uncertainties in global carbon budgets, an improved understanding of spatial and temporal variability in forest structure is required across unmanaged boreal forests. The objective of this dissertation is to investigate how fire history and forest productivity together shape the structure of Canada’s boreal forests, and to develop methods to assess these relationships over large forested areas. Transects of airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) data, totaling 25,000 km in length, were collected across northern Canada in 2010, providing a unique opportunity to study spatial varia-bility in forest structure. To elucidate on the relationships between fire, productivity, and struc-ture, lidar measures of forest structure were combined with optical satellite indicators of disturb-ance history and forest productivity. Specifically, a 25-year chronosequence of forest regenera-tion following fire was developed, and the relationship between forest structure and productivity was assessed as a function of time since fire. In addition, the relationship between structure and productivity was assessed in stands with no recorded disturbances. Satellite-derived estimates of forest productivity were an important predictor of early stand de-velopment following fire, as lidar-derived estimates of canopy cover varied strongly along re-gional gradients of productivity after 15 years following fire (r = 0.63 – 0.72, p < 0.01). Additionally, pre-disturbance conditions were a strong indicator of stand development following fire, as patches classified as dense forest (> 50% canopy cover) prior to burning displayed faster growth and recovery compared to patches classified as open forest (20 – 50% canopy cover). Further, this research highlights the importance of monitoring multiple aspects of forest recovery, as lidar-derived estimates of canopy cover and stand height showed contrasting relationships to productivity in recently burned stands (1985 – 2009) as well as in stands with no recent disturbance. The results of this dissertation demonstrate the value of the airborne lidar transects for describing stand-level variability in forest structure over large areas, and demonstrate the need for lidar to validate wall-to-wall indicators of disturbance, productivity, and structure.

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