Implications of allometric model selection for county-level biomass mapping

Article English OPEN
Duncanson, Laura ; Huang, Wenli ; Johnson, Kristofer ; Swatantran, Anu ; McRoberts, Ronald E. ; Dubayah, Ralph (2017)
  • Publisher: Springer International Publishing
  • Journal: Carbon Balance and Management, volume 12 (issn: 1750-0680, eissn: 1750-0680)
  • Related identifiers: pmc: PMC5647317, doi: 10.1186/s13021-017-0086-9
  • Subject: Forest biomass | Allometry | Carbon accounting | GE1-350 | Environmental sciences | Lidar | Research

Background Carbon accounting in forests remains a large area of uncertainty in the global carbon cycle. Forest aboveground biomass is therefore an attribute of great interest for the forest management community, but the accuracy of aboveground biomass maps depends on the accuracy of the underlying field estimates used to calibrate models. These field estimates depend on the application of allometric models, which often have unknown and unreported uncertainties outside of the size class or environment in which they were developed. Results Here, we test three popular allometric approaches to field biomass estimation, and explore the implications of allometric model selection for county-level biomass mapping in Sonoma County, California. We test three allometric models: Jenkins et al. (For Sci 49(1): 12–35, 2003), Chojnacky et al. (Forestry 87(1): 129–151, 2014) and the US Forest Service’s Component Ratio Method (CRM). We found that Jenkins and Chojnacky models perform comparably, but that at both a field plot level and a total county level there was a ~ 20% difference between these estimates and the CRM estimates. Further, we show that discrepancies are greater in high biomass areas with high canopy covers and relatively moderate heights (25–45 m). The CRM models, although on average ~ 20% lower than Jenkins and Chojnacky, produce higher estimates in the tallest forests samples (> 60 m), while Jenkins generally produces higher estimates of biomass in forests < 50 m tall. Discrepancies do not continually increase with increasing forest height, suggesting that inclusion of height in allometric models is not primarily driving discrepancies. Models developed using all three allometric models underestimate high biomass and overestimate low biomass, as expected with random forest biomass modeling. However, these deviations were generally larger using the Jenkins and Chojnacky allometries, suggesting that the CRM approach may be more appropriate for biomass mapping with lidar. Conclusions These results confirm that allometric model selection considerably impacts biomass maps and estimates, and that allometric model errors remain poorly understood. Our findings that allometric model discrepancies are not explained by lidar heights suggests that allometric model form does not drive these discrepancies. A better understanding of the sources of allometric model errors, particularly in high biomass systems, is essential for improved forest biomass mapping. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13021-017-0086-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
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