Variation of leaf angle distribution quantified by terrestrial LiDAR in natural European beech forest

Jing Liu*, Andrew K. Skidmore, Tiejun Wang, Xi Zhu, Joe Premier, Marco Heurich, Burkhard Beudert, Simon Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    Leaf inclination angle and leaf angle distribution (LAD) are important plant structural traits, influencing the flux of radiation, carbon and water. Although leaf angle distribution may vary spatially and temporally, its variation is often neglected in ecological models, due to difficulty in quantification.

    In this study, terrestrial LiDAR (TLS) was used to quantify the LAD variation in natural European beech (Fagus Sylvatica) forests. After extracting leaf points and reconstructing leaf surface, leaf inclination angle was calculated automatically. The mapping accuracy when discriminating between leaves and woody material was very high across all beech stands (overall accuracy = 87.59%). The calculation accuracy of leaf angles was evaluated using simulated point cloud and proved accurate generally (R2 = 0.88, p < 0.001; RMSE = 8.37°; nRMSE = 0.16). Then the mean (θmean), mode (θmode), and skewness of LAD were calculated to quantify LAD variation.

    Moderate variation of LAD was found in different successional status stands (θmean ∈ [36.91° 46.14°], θmode ∈ [17° 43°], skewness ∈ [0.07, 0.48]). Rather than the previously assumed spherical distribution or reported planophile distribution, here we find that LAD tended towards a uniform distribution in young and medium stands, and a planophile distribution in mature stands. A strong negative correlation was also found between plot θmean and plot median canopy height, making it possible to estimate plot specific LAD from canopy height data.

    Larger variation of LAD was found on different canopy layers (θmean ∈ [33.64° 52.97°], θmode ∈ [14° 64°], skewness ∈ [−0.30, 0.71]). Beech leaves grow more vertically in the top layer, while more obliquely or horizontally in the middle and bottom layer.

    LAD variation quantified by TLS can be used to improve leaf area index mapping and canopy photosynthesis modelling.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)208-220
    Number of pages13
    JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


    • Canopy structure
    • European beech
    • Leaf angle distribution
    • Leaf inclination
    • Leaf inclination distribution function
    • Terrestrial laser scanning
    • Variation


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