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  1. The challenges inherent in field validation data, and real-world light detection and ranging (lidar) collections make it difficult to assess the best algorithms for using lidar to characterize forest stand volume. Here, we demonstrate the use of synthetic forest stands and simulated terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) for the purpose of evaluating which machine learning algorithms, scanning configurations, and feature spaces can best characterize forest stand volume. The random forest (RF) and support vector machine (SVM) algorithms generally outperformed k-nearest neighbor (kNN) for estimating plot-level vegetation volume regardless of the input feature space or number of scans. Also, the measures designed to characterize occlusion using spherical voxels generally provided higher predictive performance than measures that characterized the vertical distribution of returns using summary statistics by height bins. Given the difficulty of collecting a large number of scans to train models, and of collecting accurate and consistent field validation data, we argue that synthetic data offer an important means to parameterize models and determine appropriate sampling strategies.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  3. Fire-prone landscapes found throughout the world are increasingly managed with prescribed fire for a variety of objectives. These frequent low-intensity fires directly impact lower forest strata, and thus estimating surface fuels or understory vegetation is essential for planning, evaluating, and monitoring management strategies and studying fire behavior and effects. Traditional fuel estimation methods can be applied to stand-level and canopy fuel loading; however, local-scale understory biomass remains challenging because of complex within-stand heterogeneity and fast recovery post-fire. Previous studies have demonstrated how single location terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) can be used to estimate plot-level vegetation characteristics and the impacts of prescribed fire. To build upon this methodology, co-located single TLS scans and physical biomass measurements were used to generate linear models for predicting understory vegetation and fuel biomass, as well as consumption by fire in a southeastern U.S. pineland. A variable selection method was used to select the six most important TLS-derived structural metrics for each linear model, where the model fit ranged in R2 from 0.61 to 0.74. This study highlights prospects for efficiently estimating vegetation and fuel characteristics that are relevant to prescribed burning via the integration of a single-scan TLS method that is adaptable by managers and relevant for coupled fire–atmosphere models.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
  4. Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) data can offer a means to estimate subcanopy fuel characteristics to support site characterization, quantification of treatment or fire effects, and inform fire modeling. Using field and TLS data within the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve (PNR), this study explores the impact of forest phenology and density of shrub height (i.e., shrub fuel bed depth) measurements on estimating average shrub heights at the plot-level using multiple linear regression and metrics derived from ground-classified and normalized point clouds. The results highlight the importance of shrub height sampling density when these data are used to train empirical models and characterize plot-level characteristics. We document larger prediction intervals (PIs), higher root mean square error (RMSE), and lower R-squared with reduction in the number of randomly selected field reference samples available within each plot. At least 10 random shrub heights collected in situ were needed to produce accurate and precise predictions, while 20 samples were ideal. Additionally, metrics derived from leaf-on TLS data generally provided more accurate and precise predictions than those calculated from leaf-off data within the study plots and landscape. This study highlights the importance of reference data sampling density and design and data characteristics when data will be used to train empirical models for extrapolation to new sites or plots.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2024