Response of a boreal forest to canopy opening: assessing vertical and lateral tree growth with multi-temporal lidar data

Ecol Appl. 2011 Jan;21(1):99-121. doi: 10.1890/09-0896.1.


Fine-scale height-growth response of boreal trees to canopy openings is difficult to measure from the ground, and there are important limitations in using stereophotogrammetry in defining gaps and determining individual crowns and height. However, precise knowledge on height growth response to different openings is critical for refining partial harvesting techniques. In this study, we question whether conifers and hardwoods respond equally in terms of sapling growth or lateral growth to openings. We also ask to what distance gaps affect tree growth into the forest. We use multi-temporal lidar to characterize tree/sapling height and lateral growth responses over five years to canopy openings and high resolution images to identify conifers and hardwoods. Species-class-wise height-growth patterns of trees/saplings in various neighborhood contexts were determined across a 6-km matrix of Canadian boreal mixed deciduous coniferous forests. We then use statistical techniques to probe how these growth responses vary by spatial location with respect to the gap edge. Results confirm that both mechanisms of gap closure contribute to the closing of canopies at a rate of 1.2% per annum. Evidence also shows that both hardwood and conifer gap edge trees have a similar lateral growth (average of 22 cm/yr) and similar rates of height growth irrespective of their location and initial height. Height growth of all saplings, however, was strongly dependent on their position within the gap and the size of the gap. Results suggest that hardwood and softwood saplings in gaps have greatest growth rates at distances of 0.5-2 m and 1.5-4 m from the gap edge and in openings smaller than 800 m2 and 250 m2, respectively. Gap effects on the height growth of trees in the intact forest were evident up to 30 m and 20 m from gap edges for hardwood and softwood overstory trees, respectively. Our results thus suggest that foresters should consider silvicultural techniques that create many small openings in mixed coniferous deciduous boreal forests to maximize the growth response of both residual and regenerating trees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Trees / growth & development*