LiDAR technology is rapidly evolving as various new systems emerge, providing unprecedented data to characterize forest vertical structure. Data from different LiDAR systems present distinct characteristics owing to a combined effect of sensor specifications, data acquisition strategies, as well as forest conditions such as tree density and canopy cover. Comparative analysis of multi-platform, multi-resolution, and multi-temporal LiDAR data provides guidelines for selecting appropriate LiDAR systems and data processing tools for different research questions, and thus is of crucial importance. This study presents a comprehensive comparison of point clouds from four systems, linear and Geiger-mode LiDAR from manned aircraft and multi-beam LiDAR on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and in-house developed Backpack, with the consideration of different forest canopy cover scenarios. The results suggest that the proximal Backpack LiDAR can provide the finest level of information, followed by UAV LiDAR, Geiger-mode LiDAR, and linear LiDAR. The emerging Geiger-mode LiDAR can capture a significantly higher level of detail while operating at a higher altitude as compared to the traditional linear LiDAR. The results also show: (1) canopy cover percentage has a critical impact on the ability of aerial and terrestrial systems to acquire information corresponding to the lower and upper portions of the tree canopy, respectively; (2) all the systems can obtain adequate ground points for digital terrain model generation irrespective of canopy cover conditions; and (3) point clouds from different systems are in agreement within a ±3 cm and ±7 cm range along the vertical and planimetric directions, respectively.
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