Understanding patterns of vegetation structure and distribution across Great Smoky Mountains National Park using LiDAR and meteorology data

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 08:00
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in Tennessee is a biodiversity hotspot and home to a large number of plant, animal and bird species. Driven by gradients of climate (ex. temperature, precipitation regimes), topography (ex. elevation, slope, aspect), geology (ex. soil types, textures, depth), hydrology (ex. drainage, moisture availability) etc. GSMNP offers a diverse composition and distribution of vegetation which in turn supports an array of wildlife. Understanding the vegetation canopy structure is critical to understand, monitor and manage the complex forest ecosystems like the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). Vegetation canopies not only help understand the vegetation, but are also a critically important habitat characteristics of many threatened and endangered animal and bird species that GSMNP is home to. Using airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) we characterize the three-dimensional structure of the vegetation. LiDAR based analysis gives detailed insight in the canopy structure (overstory and understory) and its spatial variability within and across forest types. Vegetation structure and spatial distribution show strong correlation with climate, topographic, and edaphic variables and our multivariate analysis not just mines rich and large LiDAR data but presents ecological insights and data for vegetation within the park that can be useful to forest managers in their management and conservation efforts.

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