Mapping standing dead trees (snags) in the aftermath of the 2013 Rim Fire using airborne LiDAR data.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Ángeles Casas Planes1, Mariano Garcia-Alonso1, Alexander Koltunov1,2, Susan Ustin1, Matthias Falk1, Carlos Ramirez2 and Rodney Siegel3, (1)University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States, (2)USDA Forest Service, Mcclellan Afb, CA, United States, (3)The Institute for Bird Populations, Point Reyes Station, CA, United States
Abundance and spatial distribution of standing dead trees (snags) are key indicators of forest biodiversity and ecosystem health and represent a critical component of habitat for various wildlife species, including the great grey owl and the black-backed woodpecker. In this work we assess the potential of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to discriminate snags from the live trees and map their distribution. The study area encompasses the burn perimeter of the Rim Fire, the third largest wildfire in California’s recorded history (~104.000 ha) and represents a heterogeneous mosaic of mixed conifer forests, hardwood, and meadows. The snags mapping procedure is based on a 3D single tree detection using a Watershed algorithm and the extraction of height and intensity metrics within each segment. Variables selected using Gaussian processes form a feature space for a classifier to distinguish between dead trees and live trees. Finally, snag density and snag diameter classes that are relevant for avian species are mapped. This work shows the use of LiDAR metrics to quantify ecological variables related to the vertical heterogeneity of the forest canopy that are important in the identification of snags, for example, fractional cover. We observed that intensity-related variables are critical to the successful identification of snags and their distribution. Our study highlights the importance of high-density LiDAR for characterizing the forest structural variables that contribute to the assessment of wildlife habitat suitability.