Bolton, DK; Coops, NC; Wulder, MA (2013). Measuring forest structure along productivity gradients in the Canadian boreal with small-footprint Lidar. ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING AND ASSESSMENT, 185(8), 6617-6634.
The structure and productivity of boreal forests are key components of the global carbon cycle and impact the resources and habitats available for species. With this research, we characterized the relationship between measurements of forest structure and satellite-derived estimates of gross primary production (GPP) over the Canadian boreal. We acquired stand level indicators of canopy cover, canopy height, and structural complexity from nearly 25,000 km of small-footprint discrete return Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) data and compared these attributes to GPP estimates derived from the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). While limited in our capacity to control for stand age, we removed recently disturbed and managed forests using information on fire history, roads, and anthropogenic change. We found that MODIS GPP was strongly linked to Lidar-derived canopy cover (r = 0.74, p < 0.01), however was only weakly related to Lidar-derived canopy height and structural complexity as these attributes are largely a function of stand age. A relationship was apparent between MODIS GPP and the maximum sampled heights derived from Lidar as growth rates and resource availability likely limit tree height in the prolonged absence of disturbance. The most structurally complex stands, as measured by the coefficient of variation of Lidar return heights, occurred where MODIS GPP was highest as productive boreal stands are expected to contain a wider range of tree heights and transition to uneven-aged structures faster than less productive stands. While MODIS GPP related near-linearly to Lidar-derived canopy cover, the weaker relationships to Lidar-derived canopy height and structural complexity highlight the importance of stand age in determining the structure of boreal forests. We conclude that an improved quantification of how both productivity and disturbance shape stand structure is needed to better understand the current state of boreal forests in Canada and how these forests are changing in response to changing climate and disturbance regimes.