Phoenix, AZ

Northern Arizona University Ecologists uses various lidar technologies to study forest vegetation

Alistair Dominguez
Sebastian Unrau

PHOENIX, AZ — The ecologists of Northern Arizona University or NAU are now using light detection and ranging or lidar technology in applying their research towards forestry.

“We needed an accounting of relative accuracy and errors among lidar platforms within a range of forest types and structural configurations,” said associate professor Andrew Sánchez Meador, executive director of NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute (ERI).

Sánchez Meador has led a recently published study entitled “Adjudicating Perspectives on Forest Structure: How Do Airborne, Terrestrial, and Mobile Lidar-Derived Estimates Compare?" that compares vegetation attribute at multiple scales originated from piloted airborne lidar scanning or ALS, fixed-location terrestrial lidar scanning or TLS, and mobile lidar scanning or MLS.

The study aims to know how the lidar tools could be beneficial to seek information on forest structure and composition. As the result, Sánchez Meador with his colleague postdoctoral scholar Jonathon Donager and Ph.D. student Ryan Blackburn of ERI and NAU's School of Forestry found that MLS constantly gave accurate structural metrics and can produce an accurate evaluation of canopy cover and landscape metrics.

“Our findings suggest that MLS has great potential for monitoring a variety of forest attributes,” Sánchez Meador said. “These types of scanners cost a fraction of that of other platforms, work equally well indoors and outdoors, are easily deployed and view the forest the same way humans do—from down among the trees—which makes communicating research findings easier."

He added, “as the technology develops further and prices continue to come down, we expect to see more researchers and managers using these tools for all sorts of applications, from monitoring the effects disturbance events such as fire and flood to quantifying vital wildlife habitat to providing baseline data for virtual reality applications and simulation modelling.”

Sánchez Meador together with David Huffman, ERI director of research and development, has been gained a fund from the Phoenix-based Salt River Project to study deeper the MLS's ability in evaluating forest structural condition in mixed-conifer forests as well as the distribution of coarse woody debris as the important component of the forest ecosystem.

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