Canopy Topography of an Old-Growth Tropical Rain Forest Landscape


fractal dimension
laser altimetry
remote sensing
spatial autocorrelation

How to Cite

Weishampel, J. F., Blair, J. B., Dubayah, R., Clark, D. B., & Knox, R. G. (2000). Canopy Topography of an Old-Growth Tropical Rain Forest Landscape. Selbyana, 21(1/2), 79–87. Retrieved from


The surface topography of a forest canopy is complex. Like the Earth's surface, it has a morphology that consists of hills and valleys but punctuated by gaps. The study of the surface of the forest canopy has been limited, largely by access. Recent advances in remote sensing (i.e., scanning laser altimetry) are beginning to provide broader views of this key interface between the atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere. Our analysis of canopy topography across a 1 km² area of old-growth tropical rain forest in La Selva, Costa Rica—derived with laser altimetry—details patterns based on measures of depth to canopy surface from a given elevation and height to canopy surface above the ground. Spatial autocorrelation patterns of canopy height, disregarding influences of ground topography, were isotropic and significantly positive at scales < 50 m. The fractal dimension of canopy heights across the landscape was 1.96, indicative of a nearly random distribution of peaks and troughs. In contrast, with the inclusion of ground elevation, canopy patterns exhibited anisotropy and had a fractal dimension of 1.78. At the sensor scale, the steepness of ground slopes was unrelated to canopy height measures.


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