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Remote Sens. 2012, 4(12), 4010-4021; doi:10.3390/rs4124010

Plant Species Richness is Associated with Canopy Height and Topography in a Neotropical Forest

1
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
2
Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
3
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
4
Center for Tropical Forest Science, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Republic of Panama
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 19 October 2012 / Revised: 17 December 2012 / Accepted: 17 December 2012 / Published: 18 December 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Remote Sensing of Biological Diversity)
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Abstract

Most plant species are non-randomly distributed across environmental gradients in light, water, and nutrients. In tropical forests, these gradients result from biophysical processes related to the structure of the canopy and terrain, but how does species richness in tropical forests vary over such gradients, and can remote sensing capture this variation? Using airborne lidar, we tested the extent to which variation in tree species richness is statistically explained by lidar-measured structural variation in canopy height and terrain in the extensively studied, stem-mapped 50-ha plot on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. We detected differences in species richness associated with variation in canopy height and topography across spatial scales ranging from 0.01-ha to 1.0-ha. However, species richness was most strongly associated with structural variation at the 1.0-ha scale. We developed a predictive generalized least squares model of species richness at the 1.0-ha scale (R2 = 0.479, RMSE = 8.3 species) using the mean and standard deviation of canopy height, mean elevation, and terrain curvature. The model demonstrates that lidar-derived measures of forest and terrain structure can capture a significant fraction of observed variation in tree species richness in tropical forests on local-scales. View Full-Text
Keywords: species richness; lidar; Barro Colorado Island; canopy height; topography species richness; lidar; Barro Colorado Island; canopy height; topography
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Wolf, J.A.; Fricker, G.A.; Meyer, V.; Hubbell, S.P.; Gillespie, T.W.; Saatchi, S.S. Plant Species Richness is Associated with Canopy Height and Topography in a Neotropical Forest. Remote Sens. 2012, 4, 4010-4021.

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