Modeling forest site productivity using climate data and topographic imagery in Pinus elliottii plantations of central Argentina


Key message

To be useful for silvicultural and forest management practices, the models of Site Index (SI) should be based on accessible predictor variables. In this study, we used spatially explicit data obtained from digital elevation models and climate data to develop SI prediction models with high local precision.


Predicting tree growth and yield is a key component to sustainable forest management and depends on accurate measures of site quality.


The aim of this study was to develop both empirical models to predict site index (SI) from biophysical variables and a dynamic model of top height growth for plantations of Pinus elliottii Engelm. in Córdoba, Argentina.


Site productivity described by SI was related to environmental characteristics, including topographic and climatic variables. Separate models were created from only topographic data and the combination of topographic and climate data.


Although SI can be adequately predicted through both types of models, the best results were obtained when combining topographic and climate variables (R2 = 0.83, RMSE% = 7.02%, for the best-fitting model). The key factors affecting site productivity were the landscape position and the mean precipitation of the last 5 years before the reference age, both related to the amount of plant-available water in the soils. Furthermore, the top height growth models developed are fairly accurate, considering the proportion of variance explained (R2 = 98%) and the precision of the estimates (RMSE% < 8%).


The models developed here are likely to have considerable application in forestry, since they are based on accessible predictor variables, which make them useful for silvicultural and forest management practices, particularly for non-forest areas and for the young or uneven-aged stands.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors thank the FAV-UNRC Agrometeorology research group for providing the meteorological data of the study area, and Mr. Ignacio Fernandez Corradi and Mr. Franco Banchero for their help in the forest inventories. We also thank to the people in charge of “Las Guindas” and “Pozo del Carril” rural establishments for their help and support. Finally, we thank Dr. Fernando Casanoves for his advice on modeling methods.


This research was funded through a PPI (SECyT-UNRC) and CONICET (postdoctoral position).

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Correspondence to Santiago Fiandino.

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Contribution of co-authors Jose Plevich: Contributed analysis tools.

Juan Tarico: Collected the data.

Marco Utello: Collected the data.

Marcela Demaestri: Contributed data.

Javier Gyenge: Participated in the design of the analysis and the writing of the paper.

Handling Editor: Jean-Michel Leban

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Fiandino, S., Plevich, J., Tarico, J. et al. Modeling forest site productivity using climate data and topographic imagery in Pinus elliottii plantations of central Argentina. Annals of Forest Science 77, 95 (2020).

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  • Site index
  • Biophysical factors
  • Digital elevation models
  • Prediction models
  • Forest productivity
  • Córdoba