Forest management in Florida, Forest management in Georgia, Forests and forestry in Florida, Forests and forestry in Georgia, Optical radar in Florida, Optical radar in Georgia, Pine in Florida, Pine in Georgia, Remote sensing in Florida, Remote sensing in Georgia


Active remote sensing techniques, such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), have transformed the field of forestry and natural resource management in the last decade. Intensive assessments of forest resources and detailed structural assessments can now be accomplished faster and at multiple landscape scales. The ecological applications of having this valuable information at-hand are still only being developed. This work explores the use of two active remote sensing techniques, airborne and portable LiDAR for forestry applications in a rapidly changing landscape, Southeastern Coastal Pine woodlands. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of airborne and portable LiDAR, the tools used to extract structural information, and how to apply these to managing fire regimes are key to conserving unique upland pine ecosystems. Measuring habitat structure remotely and predicting habitat suitability through modeling will allow for the management of specific species of interest, such as threatened and endangered species.

Chapter one focuses on the estimation of canopy cover and height measures across a variety of conditions of secondary upland pine and hardwood forests at Tall Timbers Research Station, FL. This study is unique since it uses two independent high resolution small-footprint LiDAR datasets (years 2002 and 2008) and extensive field plot and transect sampling for validation. Chapter One explores different tools available for metric derivation and tree extraction from discrete return airborne LiDAR data, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of each. Field and LiDAR datasets yielded better correlations for stand level comparisons, especially in canopy cover and mean height data extracted. Individual tree crown extraction from airborne LiDAR data significantly under-reported the total number of trees reported in the field datasets using either Fusion/LVD and LiDAR Analyst (Overwatch).

Chapter two evaluates stand structure at the site of one of the longest running fire ecology studies in the US, located at Tall Timbers Research Station (TTRS) in the southeastern U.S. Small footprint high resolution discrete return LiDAR was used to provide an understanding of the impact of multiple disturbance regimes on forest structure, especially on the 3-dimensional spatial arrangement of multiple structural elements and structural diversity indices. LiDAR data provided sensitive detection of structural metrics, diversity, and fine-scale vertical changes in the understory and mid-canopy structure. Canopy cover and diversity indices were shown to be statistically higher in fire suppressed and less frequently burned plots than in 1- and 2-year fire interval treated plots, which is in general agreement with the increase from 2- to 3-year fire return interval being considered an "ecological threshold" for these systems (Masters et al. 2005). The results from this study highlight the value of the use of LiDAR in evaluating disturbance impacts on the three-dimensional structure of pine forest systems, particularly over large landscapes.

Chapter three uses an affordable portable LiDAR system, first presented by Parker et al. (2004) and further modified for extra portability, to provide an understanding of structural differences between old-growth and secondary-growth forests in the Red Hills area of southwestern Georgia and North Florida. It also provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses in structural determination of ground-based portable systems in contrast to airborne LiDAR systems. Structural plot metrics obtained from airborne and portable LiDAR systems presented some similarities (i.e. canopy cover), but distinct differences appeared when measuring canopy heights (maximum and mean heights) using these different methods. Both the airborne and portable systems were able to provide gap detection and canopy cover estimation at the plot level. The portable system, when compared to the airborne LiDAR sensor, provides an underestimation of canopy cover in open forest systems ([less than]50% canopy cover), but is more sensitive in detection of cover in hardwood woodland plots ([greater than]60% canopy cover). The strength of the portable LiDAR system lies in the detection of 3-dimensional fine structural changes (i.e. recruitment, encroachment) and with higher sensitivity in detecting lower canopy levels, often missed by airborne systems.

Chapter four addresses a very promising application for fine-scale airborne LiDAR data, the creation of habitat suitability models for species of management and conservation concerns. This Chapter uses fine scale LiDAR metrics, such as canopy cover at various height strata, canopy height information, and a measure of horizontal vegetation distribution (clumped versus dispersed) to model the preferences of 10 songbirds of interest in southeast US woodlands. The results from this study highlight the rapidly changing nature of habitat conditions and how these impact songbird occurrence. Furthermore, Chapter four provides insight into the use of airborne LiDAR to provide specific management guidance to enhance the suitable habitat for 10 songbird species. The collection of studies presented here provides applied tools for the use of airborne and portable LiDAR for rapid assessment and responsive management in southeastern pine woodlands. The advantages of detecting small changes in three-dimensional vegetation structure and how these can impact habitat functionality and suitability for species of interest are explored throughout the next four chapters. The research presented here provides an original and important contribution in the application of airborne and portable LiDAR datasets in forest management and ecological studies.


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Weishampel, John F.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


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Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)