Effects of field plot size on prediction accuracy of aboveground biomass in airborne laser scanning-assisted inventories in tropical rain forests of Tanzania

Carbon Balance Manag. 2015 May 7;10:10. doi: 10.1186/s13021-015-0021-x. eCollection 2015 Dec.

Abstract

Background: Airborne laser scanning (ALS) has recently emerged as a promising tool to acquire auxiliary information for improving aboveground biomass (AGB) estimation in sample-based forest inventories. Under design-based and model-assisted inferential frameworks, the estimation relies on a model that relates the auxiliary ALS metrics to AGB estimated on ground plots. The size of the field plots has been identified as one source of model uncertainty because of the so-called boundary effects which increases with decreasing plot size. Recent research in tropical forests has aimed to quantify the boundary effects on model prediction accuracy, but evidence of the consequences for the final AGB estimates is lacking. In this study we analyzed the effect of field plot size on model prediction accuracy and its implication when used in a model-assisted inferential framework.

Results: The results showed that the prediction accuracy of the model improved as the plot size increased. The adjusted R2 increased from 0.35 to 0.74 while the relative root mean square error decreased from 63.6 to 29.2%. Indicators of boundary effects were identified and confirmed to have significant effects on the model residuals. Variance estimates of model-assisted mean AGB relative to corresponding variance estimates of pure field-based AGB, decreased with increasing plot size in the range from 200 to 3000 m2. The variance ratio of field-based estimates relative to model-assisted variance ranged from 1.7 to 7.7.

Conclusions: This study showed that the relative improvement in precision of AGB estimation when increasing field-plot size, was greater for an ALS-assisted inventory compared to that of a pure field-based inventory.

Keywords: Aboveground biomass; Airborne laser scanning; Model-assisted estimation; Plot size.