University of Cambridge > > Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars > Towards a General Theory of Lorenz Ordering Applied to Ecological Domiance and Earth Observation Systems of Forest Ecosystems

Towards a General Theory of Lorenz Ordering Applied to Ecological Domiance and Earth Observation Systems of Forest Ecosystems

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The goal of this research is to develop a general theory on Lorenz curves adapted to ecological dominance, which would provide a framework to many applications in forest science and in particular lead to improved methods for quantifying biodiversity and carbon stocks in forest ecosystems using Earth Observation (EO) technologies.

Commitments on Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), taken by signatories to the 2015’s Paris agreement, imply a need to developing methods for forest carbon accounting and monitoring at global scales. For this reason, EO technologies are becoming key to REDD , since they enable to monitor forest degradation throughout large inaccessible areas. EO consists of remote sensors, like spectral cameras and laser scanners on-board planes or satellites, which supply valuable information about forest gain and loss. The information acquired is however mainly reflected from the topmost dominant part of the forest canopy, making it difficult to detect illegal logging underneath the dominant crowns. Mathematical methods describing dominance in tree populations are therefore key to improving our understanding of the signal received by remote sensors. Previous research on EO assessments of forest structure has focused on the study of tree diameter distributions rather than their Lorenz curves. With regards to biodiversity, the attention has been aimed at richness and diversity indices, rather than competitive dominance.

This research proposes a radical shift towards a novel point of view: that using instead a mathematical framework based on Lorenz ordering can improve our understanding on competitive dominance, and therefore on the characteristics of the EO signal received from forest ecosystems. The Lorenz curve is a method widely employed in econometrics for analysing inequality in wealth distribution in societies. This research proposes to adapt the method to ecology, to show relationships of inequality among sizes of trees growing in vicinity, which are key to understanding tree competition and the relative dominance of some individual trees above others. In turn, these could also provide a better understanding on the relationships between forest biomass and signals obtained from remote sensors, ultimately leading to an increase in the certainty of EO-assisted assessments of carbon stocks and biodiversity in forest ecosystems.

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

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