Comparing Forests Across Climates and Biomes: Qualitative Assessments, Reference Forests, and Regional Inter-Comparisons

Carl Salk, Ulrich Frey, Hannes Rusch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Communities, policy actors and conservationists benefit from understanding what institutions and land management regimes promote ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation. However, the definition of success depends on local conditions. Forests' potential carbon stock, biodiversity and rate of recovery following disturbance are known to vary with a broad suite of factors including temperature, precipitation, seasonality, species' traits and land use history. Methods like tracking over-time changes within forests, or comparison with “pristine” reference forests have been proposed as means to compare the structure and biodiversity of forests in the face of underlying differences. However, data from previous visits or reference forests may be unavailable or costly to obtain. Here, we introduce a new metric of locally weighted forest intercomparison to mitigate the above shortcomings. This method is applied to an international database of nearly 300 community forests and compared with previously published techniques. It is particularly suited to large databases where forests may be compared among one another. Further, it avoids problematic comparisons with old-growth forests which may not resemble the goal of forest management. In most cases, the different methods produce broadly congruent results, suggesting that researchers have the flexibility to compare forest conditions using whatever type of data is available. Forest structure and biodiversity are shown to be independently measurable axes of forest condition, although users' and foresters' estimations of seemingly unrelated attributes are highly correlated, perhaps reflecting an underlying sentiment about forest condition. These findings contribute new tools for large-scale analysis of ecosystem condition and natural resource policy assessment. Although applied here to forestry, these techniques have broader applications to classification and evaluation problems using crowdsourced or repurposed data for which baselines or external validations are not available.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere94800
JournalPLOS ONE
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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