Estimating leaf area index in mature temperate forests using simple regressions on site and vegetation data

Schleppi Patrick 1, Thimonier Anne 1, Walthert Lorenz 1

1 Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

For. Ecol. Manag. 261 (2011): 601-610

DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2010.11.013


Canopy gap fraction and leaf area index (LAI) were measured using hemispherical photography in 91 mature forests across Switzerland, including coniferous, broadleaved and mixed stands. The gap fraction and LAI derived from five photographs per site could be reproduced with a high coefficient of determination (R2 > 0.7) by regression against simple stand parameters obtained from vegetation surveys: coverages of the tree, shrub and herb layers, and tree height. The method appeared to be robust across the different types of forests. Applied to 981 sites across Switzerland, the regression model produced LAI values ranging from 1.4 to 6.7. These predictions were compared with site variables not included in the regression. LAI appeared limited by the altitude, with maximal values decreasing by one third from 400 to 2000 m above see level. Water availability was also clearly a limitation at sites with a negative water balance, i.e. where the yearly potential evapotranspiration exceeded the precipitation. High or low values of a humidity index based on the ground vegetation also corresponded to a limitation of the LAI, with shorter trees at dry sites and more open canopies at wet sites. Compared to optical measurements (including hemispherical photography), our regression method is fast and inexpensive. Such an approach appears very promising for obtaining reliable estimates of LAI for many sites with low costs. These estimates can then be fed into process models at the stand level.

Keywords: Switzerland, temperate forests, LAI, digital hemispherical photography, vegetation surveys, water availability, modelling