LiDAR measurements of canopy structure can be used to classify forest stands into structural stages to study spatial patterns of canopy structure, identify habitat, or plan management actions. A key assumption in this process is that differences in canopy structure based on forest age and elevation are consistent with predictions from models of stand development. Three LiDAR metrics (95th percentile height, rumple, and canopy density) were computed for 59 secondary and 35 primary forest plots in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Hierarchical clustering identified two precanopy closure classes, two low-complexity postcanopy closure classes, and four high-complexity postcanopy closure classes. Forest development models suggest that secondary plots should be characterized by low-complexity classes and primary plots characterized by high-complexity classes. While the most and least complex classes largely confirmed this relationship, intermediate-complexity classes were unexpectedly composed of both secondary and primary forest types. Complexity classes were not associated with elevation, except that primary Tsuga mertensiana (Bong.) Carriere (mountain hemlock) plots were complex. These results suggest that canopy structure does not develop in a linear fashion and emphasize the importance of measuring structural conditions rather than relying on development models to estimate structural complexity across forested landscapes.
Kane, Van R.; Bakker, Jonathan D.; McGaughey, Robert J.; Lutz, James A.; Gersonde, Rolf F.; Franklin, Jerry F. 2010. Examining conifer canopy structural complexity across forest ages and elevations with LiDAR data. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 40: 774-787.