, Volume 137, Issue 2, pp 227-244

Identifying spatial patterns in the tropical rain forest structure using hemispherical photographs

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Abstract

This work emphasises the usefulness of hemispherical photography for identifying spatial patterns in the tropical rain forest structure. Structural variability was investigated at a local (intra-site) scale, in relation to the forest mosaic, and at a regional (inter-sites) scale, for its implication in forest typology. Four primary forest sites, from 0.6 to 1 ha, were investigated in Central Sumatra, Indonesia.

In a first instance, a qualitative analysis of the forest 3-D structure was found to be very helpful in the interpretation of quantitative results related to forest dynamics. The quantitative analysis was undertaken through the assessment of three structural characteristics: (1) the canopy openness (CO), or visible sky as seen from all directions of the hemisphere, (2) the spherical variance (SV), which quantifies the spatial dispersion of gaps and, (3) the plant area index (Lp), defined as half the surface area of canopy elements per unit ground area. At the local scale, maps of the CO values gave an indication about disturbance location and extent, providing an interesting document for studies on forest dynamics. At the regional scale, between-sites comparisons of CO, SV and Lp values added new information on forest structural differences when compared to dendrometric measurements. These results emphasised the fact that rain forest may exhibit high structural variability, even within a same bioclimatic region and a narrow altitude range. Hemispherical photographs could be a quick means of further investigating this spatial variability and it's relation to physical environment, thus providing information that is crucial for the refining of forest typology in the area.