Canopy area of large trees explains aboveground biomass variations across neotropical forest landscapes
Large tropical trees store significant amounts of carbon in woody components and their distribution plays an important role in forest carbon stocks and dynamics. Here, we explore the properties of a new lidar-derived index, the large tree canopy area (LCA) defined as the area occupied by canopy above a reference height. We hypothesize that this simple measure of forest structure representing the crown area of large canopy trees could consistently explain the land- scape variations in forest volume and aboveground biomass (AGB) across a range of climate and edaphic conditions. To test this hypothesis, we assembled a unique dataset of high-resolution airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) and ground inventory data in nine undisturbed old-growth Neotropical forests, of which four had plots large enough (1 ha) to calibrate our model. We found that the LCA for trees greater than 27 m (? 25–30 m) in height and at least 100 m2 crown size in a unit area (1 ha), explains more than 75 % of total forest volume variations, irrespective of the forest biogeographic conditions. When weighted by average wood density of the stand, LCA can be used as an unbiased estima- tor of AGB across sites (R 2 = 0.78, RMSE = 46.02 Mg ha?1 , bias = ?0.63 Mg ha?1 ). Unlike other lidar-derived metrics with complex nonlinear relations to biomass, the relationship between LCA and AGB is linear and remains unique across forest types. A comparison with tree inventories across the study sites indicates that LCA correlates best with the crown area (or basal area) of trees with diameter greater than 50 cm. The spatial invariance of the LCA–AGB relationship across the Neotropics suggests a remarkable regularity of forest structure across the landscape and a new technique for sys- tematic monitoring of large trees for their contribution to AGB and changes associated with selective logging, tree mortality and other types of tropical forest disturbance and dynamics.