Forest canopy structure (CS) controls many ecosystem functions and is highly variable across landscapes, but the magnitude and scale of this variation is not well understood. We used a portable canopy lidar system to characterize variation in five categories of CS along N = 3 transects (140–800 m long) at each of six forested landscapes within the eastern USA. The cumulative coefficient of variation was calculated for subsegments of each transect to determine the point of stability for individual CS metrics. We then quantified the scale at which CS is autocorrelated using Moran’s I in an Incremental Autocorrelation analysis. All CS metrics reached stable values within 300 m but varied substantially within and among forested landscapes. A stable point of 300 m for CS metrics corresponds with the spatial extent that many ecosystem functions are measured and modeled. Additionally, CS metrics were spatially autocorrelated at 40 to 88 m, suggesting that patch scale disturbance or environmental factors drive these patterns. Our study shows CS is heterogeneous across temperate forest landscapes at the scale of 10’s of meters, requiring a resolution of this size for upscaling CS with remote sensing to large spatial scales.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.