Light detection and ranging explains diversity of plants, fungi, lichens, and bryophytes across multiple habitats and large geographic extent

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Effective planning and nature management require spatially accurate and comprehensive measures of the factors important for biodiversity. Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) can provide exactly this, and is therefore a promising technology to support future nature management and related applications. However, until now studies evaluating the potential of LIDAR for this field have been highly limited in scope. Here, we assess the potential of LIDAR to estimate the local diversity of four species groups in multiple habitat types, from open grasslands and meadows over shrubland to forests and across a large area (~43,000 km2), providing a crucial step toward enabling the application of LIDAR in practice, planning, and policy-making. We assessed the relationships between the species richness of macrofungi, lichens, bryophytes, and plants, respectively, and 25 LIDAR-based measures related to potential abiotic and biotic diversity drivers. We used negative binomial generalized linear modeling to construct 19 different candidate models for each species group, and leave-one-region-out cross validation to select the best models. These best models explained 49%, 31%, 32%, and 28% of the variation in species richness (R2) for macrofungi, lichens, bryophytes, and plants, respectively. Three LIDAR measures, terrain slope, shrub layer height and variation in local heat load, were important and positively related to the richness in three of the four species groups. For at least one of the species groups, four other LIDAR measures, shrub layer density, medium-tree layer density, and variations in point amplitude and in relative biomass, were among the three most important. Generally, LIDAR measures exhibited strong associations to the biotic environment, and to some abiotic factors, but were poor measures of spatial landscape and temporal habitat continuity. In conclusion, we showed how well LIDAR alone can predict the local biodiversity across habitats. We also showed that several LIDAR measures are highly correlated to important biodiversity drivers, which are notoriously hard to measure in the field. This opens up hitherto unseen possibilities for using LIDAR for cost-effective monitoring and management of local biodiversity across species groups and habitat types even over large areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01907
JournalEcological Applications
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • airborne laser scanning, ecospace, generalized linear model, remote sensing, species richness, terrain structure, vegetation structure

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