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Lidar aboveground vegetation biomass estimates in shrublands: Prediction, uncertainties and application to coarser scales

October 31, 2017

Our study objectives were to model the aboveground biomass in a xeric shrub-steppe landscape with airborne light detection and ranging (Lidar) and explore the uncertainty associated with the models we created. We incorporated vegetation vertical structure information obtained from Lidar with ground-measured biomass data, allowing us to scale shrub biomass from small field sites (1 m subplots and 1 ha plots) to a larger landscape. A series of airborne Lidar-derived vegetation metrics were trained and linked with the field-measured biomass in Random Forests (RF) regression models. A Stepwise Multiple Regression (SMR) model was also explored as a comparison. Our results demonstrated that the important predictors from Lidar-derived metrics had a strong correlation with field-measured biomass in the RF regression models with a pseudo R2 of 0.76 and RMSE of 125 g/m2 for shrub biomass and a pseudo R2 of 0.74 and RMSE of 141 g/m2 for total biomass, and a weak correlation with field-measured herbaceous biomass. The SMR results were similar but slightly better than RF, explaining 77–79% of the variance, with RMSE ranging from 120 to 129 g/m2 for shrub and total biomass, respectively. We further explored the computational efficiency and relative accuracies of using point cloud and raster Lidar metrics at different resolutions (1 m to 1 ha). Metrics derived from the Lidar point cloud processing led to improved biomass estimates at nearly all resolutions in comparison to raster-derived Lidar metrics. Only at 1 m were the results from the point cloud and raster products nearly equivalent. The best Lidar prediction models of biomass at the plot-level (1 ha) were achieved when Lidar metrics were derived from an average of fine resolution (1 m) metrics to minimize boundary effects and to smooth variability. Overall, both RF and SMR methods explained more than 74% of the variance in biomass, with the most important Lidar variables being associated with vegetation structure and statistical measures of this structure (e.g., standard deviation of height was a strong predictor of biomass). Using our model results, we developed spatially-explicit Lidar estimates of total and shrub biomass across our study site in the Great Basin, U.S.A., for monitoring and planning in this imperiled ecosystem.