Impacts of Airborne Lidar Pulse Density on Estimating Biomass Stocks and Changes in a Selectively Logged Tropical Forest

Airborne lidar is a technology well-suited for mapping many forest attributes, including aboveground biomass (AGB) stocks and changes in selective logging in tropical forests. However, trade-offs still exist between lidar pulse density and accuracy of AGB estimates. We assessed the impacts of lidar pulse density on the estimation of AGB stocks and changes using airborne lidar and field plot data in a selectively logged tropical forest located near Paragominas, Pará, Brazil. Field-derived AGB was computed at 85 square 50 × 50 m plots in 2014. Lidar data were acquired in 2012 and 2014, and for each dataset the pulse density was subsampled from its original density of 13.8 and 37.5 pulses·m−2 to lower densities of 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 0.8, 0.6, 0.4 and 0.2 pulses·m−2 . For each pulse density dataset, a power-law model was developed to estimate AGB stocks from lidar-derived mean height and corresponding changes between the years 2012 and 2014. We found that AGB change estimates at the plot level were only slightly affected by pulse density. However, at the landscape level we observed differences in estimated AGB change of >20 Mg·ha−1 when pulse density decreased from 12 to 0.2 pulses·m−2 . The effects of pulse density were more pronounced in areas of steep slope, especially when the digital terrain models (DTMs) used in the lidar derived forest height were created from reduced pulse density data. In particular, when the DTM from high pulse density in 2014 was used to derive the forest height from both years, the effects on forest height and the estimated AGB stock and changes did not exceed 20 Mg·ha−1 . The results suggest that AGB change can be monitored in selective logging in tropical forests with reasonable accuracy and low cost with low pulse density lidar surveys if a baseline high-quality DTM is available from at least one lidar survey. We recommend the results of this study to be considered in developing projects and national level MRV systems for REDD+ emission reduction programs for tropical forests.