Canopy structure of tropical and sub-tropical rain forests in relation to conifer dominance analysed with a portable LIDAR system

Shin Ichiro Aiba*, Kosuke Akutsu, Yusuke Onoda

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    Background and Aims Globally, conifer dominance is restricted to nutient-poor habitats in colder, drier or waterlogged environments, probably due to competition with angiosperms. Analysis of canopy structure is important for understanding the mechanism of plant coexistence in relation to competition for light. Most conifers are shade intolerant, and often have narrow, deep, conical crowns. In this study it is predicted that conifer-admixed forests have less distinct upper canopies and more undulating canopy surfaces than angiosperm-dominated forests. Methods By using a ground-based, portable light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system, canopy structure was quantified for old-growth evergreen rainforests with varying dominance of conifers along altitudinal gradients (200-3100 m a.s.l.) on tropical and sub-tropical mountains (Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo and Yakushima Island, Japan) that have different conifer floras. Key Results Conifers dominated at higher elevations on both mountains (Podocarpaceae and Araucariaceae on Kinabalu and Cupressaceae and Pinaceae onYakushima), but conifer dominance also varied with soil/substrate conditions on Kinabalu. Conifer dominance was associated with the existence of large-diameter conifers. Forests with higher conifer dominance showed a canopy height profile (CHP) more skewed towards the understorey on both Kinabalu and Yakushima. In contrast, angiosperm-dominated forests had a CHP skewed towards upper canopy, except for lowland dipterocarp forests and a sub-alpine scrub dominated by small-leaved Leptospermum recurvum (Myrtaceae) on Kinabalu. Forests with a less dense upper canopy had more undulating outer canopy surfaces. Mixed conifer-angiosperm forests on Yakushima and dipterocarp forests on Kinabalu showed similar canopy structures. Conclusions The results generally supported the prediction, suggesting that lower growth of angiosperm trees (except L. recurvum on Kinabalu) in cold and nutrient-poor environments results in a sparser upper canopy, which allows shade-intolerant conifers to co-occur with angiosperm trees either as emergents or as codominants in the open canopy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1899-1909
    Number of pages11
    JournalAnnals of Botany
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


    • Additive basal area
    • Altitudinal gradient
    • Canopy structure
    • Conifer-angiosperm coexistence
    • Forest stratification
    • Mount Kinabalu
    • Portable LIDAR system
    • Yakushima Island.


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