Jan. 27, 2022
Dec. 30, 2021
If you are looking for a classic example of the circle of life, consider the forest canopy structure. A forest’s canopy structure is influenced by environmental and soil factors, and it also influences these factors in return. It is an aspect of forest ecology that is receiving more attention in this age of climate change emergency. The canopy structure is often overlooked, with most of the focus being on biodiversity. One of the reasons could be that the forest canopy structure is a more complex concept, which cannot be easily captured in a number.
A forest or any biome is made up of several trees that belong to many species. A tree has a stem and a crown of branches that bear leaves, flowers, and fruits. Though forest canopy structure can mean different things, it basically refers to the arrangement of tree crowns; it has two components: the vertical structure and horizontal structure.
Figure1: The figure at the top right shows the horizontal structure, while the bottom right shows the vertical structure. The figure on the left shows the different species making up the forest. (Image credits:http://www.imedpub.com/articles/study-of-vertical-and-horizontal-forest-structure-in-northern-zagros- forest-case-study-west-of-iran-oak-forest.php?aid=11590)
Complicating this concept of forest structure is the issue of spatial scale, i.e., space or area that is considered for estimating the canopy structure.
At a regional scale, the number of trees, shrubs, herbs, their species, and their arrangements give the forest canopy structure (See Figure 3). At this large scale, forest canopy structure defines the biome and its conditions, and it tells us whether the forest is
Remote sensing is the preferred method of collecting data about forest canopy structure at large scales.
At the local scale, forest stand attributes, such as tree girth, the shape of a crown, height, and tree architecture, are the defining characteristics of forest canopy structure. Here, the forest canopy structure can also refer to the total quantity of leaves in a forest. Ground based methods are used to collect data on local forest canopy structure.
Figure 2: Vertical Forest Structure. (Image credits:https://slideplayer.com/slide/13767425/ )
Forest canopy structure determines many of the environmental factors and functions of a forest and is, therefore, important for all the species living in a forest.
Figure 3: Biome vegetation structure. A Thicket with a low closed canopy and a discontinuous layer of shade tolerant grasses; B Forest with a tall closed canopy, no grass layer, and a mid-storey of shade-tolerant trees; C Savanna with a continuous C4 grasses layer and a discontinuous tree cover. From Charles-Dominique, et.al. (2015) (Image credita DOI: 10.1016/j.sajb.2015.05.005.
Besides the importance of forest canopy structure for the forest ecosystem, it is useful for people in many ways and is therefore monitored. Some of the most important uses are as follows:
Forest canopy structure can be measured on the ground by quantifying the leaf area in the forest or through forest cover estimation. The Plant Canopy Imager CI-110, produced by CID Bio-Science captures wide-angle canopy images while estimating Leaf Area Index (LAI) and measuring Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) levels. It has a GPS to provide the exact coordinates of a place, for repeat observations. The GPS makes it also possible to integrate ground observations with remote sensing data in Geographical Information System (GIS) to expand its efficiency.
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture
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