University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Plant Sciences Research Seminars > Selective logging leaves persistent effects on the canopy structure of a West Africa forest

Selective logging leaves persistent effects on the canopy structure of a West Africa forest

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Large areas of forest across the world are recovering after agricultural abandonment or selective logging. These areas are increasingly recognized as important for biodiversity conservation and offsets for greenhouse gas emissions. Airborne LiDAR remote sensing is a promising tool for detecting and assessing the recovery stage of disturbed forests, especially in tropical regions, where little information on forest disturbance history is available. Here we analyze LiDAR data from a ~16km2 stretch of forest in Sierra Leone, West Africa, which was selectively logged (1960 ā€“ 1989) in the west but is an old-growth forest in the east, and compare the emerging characteristics to measurements from permanent field plots in the area. We hypothesized that recovering forest would differ from old-growth forest in terms of canopy, total area of canopy gaps, and the gap-size distribution, even 24 years after timber harvesting. We found that recovering blocks of forest were slightly shorter and had a greater area of canopy gaps within all height strata than old-growth forest; they also had a greater number of large gaps and a greater number of gaps penetrating down to the forest floor. We found that gap size distributions deviated from the power-law functions reported in previous studies, with substantially fewer large gaps than predicted by a power-law function. Comparison to field measurements revealed that while relatively severe disturbances were detectable by simple structural characteristics such as canopy height and gap fractions at the higher levels of the canopy, less even areas that were mildly disturbed showed significant differences when analyzing gap size distributions and gap fractions throughout the canopy, all the way to the forest floor. These analyses demonstrate that airborne LiDAR is a useful tool for distinguishing old-growth from old-secondary forests at the subnational scale, with implications for biodiversity conservation and carbon assessments within protected areas.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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