Assessing the structural differences between tropical forest types using Terrestrial Laser Scanning
*Corresponding author for this work
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › Academic › peer-review
Increasing anthropogenic pressure leads to loss of habitat through deforestation and degradation in tropical forests. While deforestation can be monitored relatively easily, forest management practices are often subtle processes, that are difficult to capture with for example satellite monitoring. Conventional measurements are well established and can be useful for management decisions, but it is believed that Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) has a role in quantitative monitoring and continuous improvement of methods. In this study we used a combination of TLS and conventional forest inventory measures to estimate forest structural parameters in four different forest types in a tropical montane cloud forest in Kafa, Ethiopia. Here, the four forest types (intact forest, coffee forest, silvopasture, and plantations) are a result of specific management practices (e.g. clearance of understory in coffee forest), and not different forest communities or tree types. Both conventional and TLS derived parameters confirmed our assumptions that intact forest had the highest biomass, silvopasture had the largest canopy gaps, and plantations had the lowest canopy openness. Contrary to our expectations, coffee forest had higher canopy openness and similar biomass as silvopasture, indicating a significant loss of forest structure. The 3D vegetation structure (PAVD – Plant area vegetation density) was different between the forest types with the highest PAVD in intact forest and plantation canopy. Silvopasture was characterised by a low canopy but high understorey PAVD, indicating regeneration of the vegetation and infrequent fuelwood collection and/or non-intensive grazing. Coffee forest canopy had low PAVD, indicating that many trees had been removed, despite coffee needing canopy shade. These findings may advocate for more tangible criteria such as canopy openness thresholds in sustainable coffee certification schemes. TLS as tool for monitoring forest structure in plots with different forest types shows potential as it can capture the 3D position of the vegetation volume and open spaces at all heights in the forest. To quantify changes in different forest types, consistent monitoring of 3D structure is needed and here TLS is an add-on or an alternative to conventional forest structure monitoring. However, for the tropics, TLS-based automated segmentation of trees to derive DBH and biomass is not widely operational yet, nor is species richness determination in forest monitoring. Integration of data sources is needed to fully understand forest structural diversity and implications of forest management practices on different forest types.