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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Mapping site index in coniferous forests using bi-temporal airborne laser scanning data and field data from the Swedish national forest inventory

Mensah, Alex Appiah; Jonen, Jonas; Nystrom, Kenneth; Wallerman, Jorgen; Nilsson, Mats


Recent advancements in remote sensing of forests have demonstrated the capabilities of three-dimensional data acquired by airborne laser scanning (ALS) and, consequently, have become an integral part of enhanced forest inventories in Northern Europe. In Sweden, the first national laser scanning revolutionised forest management planning through low-cost production of large-scale and spatially explicit maps of forest attributes such as basal area, volume, and biomass, compared to the earlier practice based on field survey data. A second scanning at the national level was launched in 2019, and it provides conditions for the estimation of height growth and site index. Accurate and up-to-date information about site productivity is relevant for planning silvicultural treatments and for the prognosis of forest status and development over time. In this study, we explored the potential of bi-temporal ALS data and other auxiliary information to predict and map site productivity by site index according to site properties (SIS) of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) in even aged stands in Sweden. We linked ground survey data of SIS from more than 11,500 plots of the Swedish National Forest Inventory (NFI) to bi-temporal ALS data to predict and map site index using an area-based method and two regression modelling strategies: (1) a multiple linear regression (MLR) model with an ordinary least-squares parameter estimation method, and (2) a non-parametric random forests (RF) model optimised for hyper parameter tuning. For model development, permanent plots were used, whereas the validation was done on the temporary plots of the Swedish NFI and an independent stand-level dataset. Species-specific models were developed, and the root mean square error (RMSE) metric was used to quantify the residual variability around model predictions. For both species, the MLR model gave precise and accurate estimates of SIS. The RMSE for SIS predictions was in the range of 1.96 - 2.11 m, and the relative RMSE was less than 10 % (7.68 - 9.49 %) of the reference mean value. Final predictors of site index include metrics of 90th percentile height and annual increment in the 95th percentile height, altitude, distance to coast, and soil moisture. Country-wide maps of SIS and the corresponding pixel-level prediction errors at a spatial resolution of 12.5 m grid cells were produced for the two species. Independent validations show the site index maps are suitable for use in operational forest management planning in Sweden.


Regression analysis; Forest site productivity; National forest inventory; Airborne laser scanning; Scots pine; Norway spruce

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2023, Volume: 547, article number: 121395
Publisher: ELSEVIER