ASSESSING THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN VERTICAL STRUCTURE, BIODIVERSITY, AND SUCCESSION IN A FOREST ECOSYSTEM USING LIDAR REMOTE SENSING
Whitehurst, Amanda Sharon
Dubayah, Ralph O
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This thesis used lidar remote sensing to explore the role of vertical structure in forest ecosystem dynamics. In particular, relationship between the vertical distribution, biodiversity, and succession was examined in Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH (HBEF). The first objective was to develop metrics characterizing vertical foliage distribution or canopy layering. Two novel metrics (canopy layer structure categories and number of foliage profile layers) were created, allowing canopy layering to be mapped HBEF. The canopy layer structure metric categorizes areas by comparing the amount of vegetation in under, mid, and overstories. The number of foliage profile layers is related to peaks in the foliage area profile, representing area of dense of "clumped" foliage. Both these metrics varied with canopy height and elevation, areas with taller trees and lower elevations tended to have more foliage profile layers and were classified as categories with a dominant overstory. The second objective was to examine the relationship between vertical canopy structure and avian species diversity. Multiple vertical structure metrics were derived for 370 bird plots in HBEF. Foliage height diversity (FHD) varied greatly in relation to bird species diversity. Of the foliage distribution metrics, vegetation ratio and number of foliage profile layers explained the most variability in bird species diversity. The lidar metric of height at median return (HOME) had the strongest correlation with bird species diversity (r = - 0.56). This study showed a moderate correlation between bird species diversity and foliage distribution metrics. It further supports previous studies which question the applicability of FHD. Finally, change in vertical structure in HBEF was examined using lidar data from 1999 and 2009. Due to significant change in canopy height, canopy cover, vegetation ratio and understory cover during the time period, it was determined that HBEF had not reached steady-state. Recently disturbed areas had significantly higher canopy height growth than undisturbed areas, despite being at higher elevations. This research presents standardized metrics for the characterization and mapping of canopy foliage distribution. It also provides ecological links between lidar metrics and ecological concepts to enabling these measurements of forest structure to be applied in other areas.