Laser remote sensing of canopy habitat heterogeneity as a predictor of bird species richness in an eastern temperate forest, USA

Scott Goetz, Daniel Steinberg, Ralph Dubayah, Bryan Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

290 Scopus citations


Habitat heterogeneity has long been recognized as a fundamental variable indicative of species diversity, in terms of both richness and abundance. Satellite remote sensing data sets can be useful for quantifying habitat heterogeneity across a range of spatial scales. Past remote sensing analyses of species diversity have largely been limited to correlative studies based on the use of vegetation indices or derived land cover maps. A relatively new form of laser remote sensing (lidar) provides another means to acquire information on habitat heterogeneity. Here we examine the efficacy of lidar metrics of canopy structural diversity as predictors of bird species richness in the temperate forests of Maryland, USA. Canopy height, topography and the vertical distribution of canopy elements were derived from lidar imagery of the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge and compared to bird survey data collected at referenced grid locations. The canopy vertical distribution information was consistently found to be the strongest predictor of species richness, and this was predicted best when stratified into guilds dominated by forest, scrub, suburban and wetland species. Similar lidar variables were selected as primary predictors across guilds. Generalized linear and additive models, as well as binary hierarchical regression trees produced similar results. The lidar metrics were also consistently better predictors than traditional remotely sensed variables such as canopy cover, indicating that lidar provides a valuable resource for biodiversity research applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-263
Number of pages10
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 15 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Abundance
  • Biodiversity
  • Diversity
  • General additive models
  • Habitat
  • Heterogeneity
  • Lidar
  • Regression trees
  • Remote sensing
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Laser remote sensing of canopy habitat heterogeneity as a predictor of bird species richness in an eastern temperate forest, USA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this