Mapping tree diversity in the tropical forest region of Chocó-Colombia

J. Camilo Fagua, Patrick Jantz, Patrick Burns, Richard Massey, Jeiner Y. Buitrago, Sassan Saatchi, Christopher Hakkenberg, Scott J. Goetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Understanding spatial patterns of diversity in tropical forests is indispensable for their sustainable use and conservation. Recent studies have reported relationships between forest structure and α-diversity. While tree α-diversity is difficult to map via remote sensing, large-scale forest structure models are becoming more common, which would facilitate mapping the relationship between tree α-diversity and forest structure, contributing to our understanding of biogeographic patterns in the tropics. We developed a methodology to map tree α-diversity in tropical forest regions at 50 m spatial resolution using α-diversity estimates from forest inventories as response variables and forest structural metrics and environmental variables as predictors. To include forest structural metrics in our modelling, we first developed a method to map seven of these metrics integrating discrete light detection and ranging (LiDAR), multispectral, and synthetic aperture radar imagery (SAR). We evaluated this methodology in the Chocó region of Colombia, a tropical forest with high tree diversity and complex forest structure. The relative errors (REs) of the random forest models used to map the seven forest structural variables ranged from low (6%) to moderate (35%). The α-diversity maps had moderate RE; the maps of Simpson and Shannon diversity indices had the lowest RE (9% and 13%), followed by richness (17%), while Shannon and Simpson effective number of species indices had the highest RE, 27% and 47%, respectively. The highest concentrations of tree α-diversity are located along the Pacific Coast from the centre to the northwest of the Chocó Region and in non-flooded forest along the boundary between the Chocó region and the Andes. Our results reveal strong relationships between canopy structure and tree α-diversity, providing support for ecological theories that link structure to diversity via niche partitioning and environmental conditions. With modification, our methods could be applied to assess tree α-diversity of any tropical forest where tree α-diversity field observations coincident with LiDAR data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number054024
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Alpha diversity
  • LiDAR
  • forest inventories
  • forest structure
  • remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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