Spatial variability in tropical forest leaf area density from multireturn lidar and modeling

Matteo Detto, Gregory P. Asner, Helene C. Muller-Landau, Oliver Sonnentag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Leaf area index and leaf area density profiles are key variables for upscaling from leaves to ecosystems yet are difficult to measure well in dense and tall forest canopies. We present a new model to estimate leaf area density profiles from discrete multireturn data derived by airborne waveform light detection and ranging (lidar), a model based on stochastic radiative transfer theory. We tested the method on simulated ray tracing data for highly clumped forest canopies, both vertically homogenous and vertically inhomogeneous. Our method was able to reproduce simulated vertical foliage profiles with small errors and predictable biases in dense canopies (leaf area index = 6) including layers below densely foliated upper canopies. As a case study, we then applied the method to real multireturn airborne lidar data for a 50 ha plot of moist tropical forest on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. The method is suitable for estimating foliage profiles in a complex tropical forest, which opens new avenues for analyses of spatial and temporal variations in foliage distributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-309
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


  • complex forest
  • leaf area density
  • leaf area index
  • multireturn lidar
  • tropical forest
  • waveform lidar


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