Structural diversity indices based on airborne LiDAR as ecological indicators for managing highly dynamic landscapes

  • Articles in SCI Journals
  • Jun, 2015

Listopad, C.M.C.S., Masters. R.E., Drake. J., Weishampe.l J., Branquinho, C. (2015) Structural diversity indices based on airborne LiDAR as ecological indicators for managing highly dynamic landscapes.

Ecological Indicators, 57, 268–279. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.04.017 (IF2015 3,190; Q1 Environmental Sciences)

An objective, quantifiable index of structural biodiversity that could be rapidly obtained with reduced or no field effort is essential for the use of structure as universal ecological indicator for ecosystem management. Active remote sensing provides a rapid assessment tool to potentially guide land managers in highly dynamic and spatially complex landscapes. These landscapes are often dependent on frequent disturbance regimes and characterized by high endemism.

We propose a modified Shannon–Wiener Index and modified Evenness Index as stand structural complexity indices for surrogates of ecosystem health. These structural indices are validated at Tall Timbers Research Station the site of one of the longest running fire ecology studies in southeastern U.S. This site is dominated by highly dynamic pine-grassland woodlands maintained with frequent fire. Once the dominant ecosystem in the Southeast, this woodland complex has been cleared for agriculture or converted to other cover types, and depends on a frequent (1- to 3-year fire return interval) low- to moderate-intensity fire regime to prevent succession to mixed hardwood forests and maintain understory species diversity. Structural evaluation of the impact of multiple disturbance regimes included height profiles and derived metrics for five different fire interval treatments; 1-year, 2-year, 3-year, mixed fire frequency (a combination of 2- and 4-year fire returns), and fire exclusion. The 3-dimensional spatial arrangement of structural elements was used to assess hardwood encroachment and changes in structural complexity. In agreement with other research, 3-year fire return interval was considered to be the best fire interval treatment for maintaining the pine-grassland woodlands, because canopy cover and vertical diversity indices were shown to be statistically higher in fire excluded and less frequently burned plots than in 1- and 2-year fire interval treatments. We developed a LiDAR-derived structural diversity index, LHDI, and propose that an ecosystem-specific threshold target for management intervention can be developed, based on significant shifts in structure and composition using this new index.

Structural diversity indices can be valuable surrogates of ecosystem biodiversity, and ecosystem-specific target values can be developed as objective quantifiable goals for conservation and ecosystem integrity, particularly in remote areas.