Incorporating canopy structure from simulated GEDI lidar into bird species distribution models

Patrick Burns, Matthew Clark, Leonardo Salas, Steven Hancock, David Leland, Patrick Jantz, Ralph Dubayah, Scott J. Goetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) lidar began data acquisition from the International Space Station in March 2019 and is expected to make over 10 billion measurements of canopy structure and topography over two years. Previously, airborne lidar data with limited spatial coverage have been used to examine relationships between forest canopy structure and faunal diversity, most commonly bird species. GEDI's latitudinal coverage will permit these types of analyses at larger spatial extents, over the majority of the Earth's forests, and most importantly in areas where canopy structure is complex and/or poorly understood. In this regional study, we examined the impact that GEDI-derived Canopy Structure variables have on the performance of bird species distribution models (SDMs) in Sonoma County, California. We simulated GEDI waveforms for a two-year period and then interpolated derived Canopy Structure variables to three grid sizes of analysis. In addition to these variables, we also included Phenology, Climate, and other Auxiliary variables to predict the probability of occurrence of 25 common bird species. We used a weighted average ensemble of seven individual machine learning models to make predictions for each species and calculated variable importance. We found that Canopy Structure variables were, on average at our finest resolution of 250 m, the second most important group (32.5%) of predictor variables after Climate variables (35.3%). Canopy Structure variables were most important for predicting probability of occurrence of birds associated with Conifer forest habitat. Regarding spatial analysis scale, we found that finer-scale models more frequently performed better than coarser-scale models, and the importance of Canopy Structure variables was greater at finer spatial resolutions. Overall, GEDI Canopy Structure variables improved SDM performance for at least one spatial resolution for 19 of 25 species and thus show promise for improving models of bird species occurrence and mapping potential habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number095002
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • GEDI
  • bird species distribution models
  • canopy structure
  • lidar
  • machine learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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