Canopy height is a key variable in tropical forest functioning and for regional carbon inventories. We investigate the spatial structure of the canopy height of a tropical forest, its relationship with environmental physical covariates, and the implication for tropical forest height variation mapping. Making use of high-resolution maps of LiDAR-derived Digital Canopy Model (DCM) and environmental covariates from a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) acquired over 30,000 ha of tropical forest in French Guiana, we first show that forest canopy height is spatially correlated up to 2500 m. Forest canopy height is significantly associated with environmental variables, but the degree of correlation varies strongly with pixel resolution. On the whole, bottomland forests generally have lower canopy heights than hillslope or hilltop forests. However, this global picture is very noisy at local scale likely because of the endogenous gap-phase forest dynamic processes. Forest canopy height has been predictively mapped across a pixel resolution going from 6 m to 384 m mimicking a low resolution case of 3 points·km
. Results of canopy height mapping indicated that the error for spatial model with environment effects decrease from 8.7 m to 0.91 m, depending of the pixel resolution. Results suggest that, outside the calibration plots, the contribution of environment in shaping the global canopy height distribution is quite limited. This prevents accurate canopy height mapping based only on environmental information, and suggests that precise canopy height maps, for local management purposes, can only be obtained with direct LiDAR monitoring.
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