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A new method for capturing stem taper variation for trees of diverse morphological types

MacFarlane, David W., Weiskittel, Aaron R.
Canadian journal of forest research = 2016 v.46 no.6 pp. 804-815
data collection, forest ecosystems, forest inventory, models, stem form, stems, trees
Understanding variation in tree stem form is fundamental to both ecological and economic assessments of forest ecosystem structure and function. Stem taper models (STMs) are widely used to describe tree form, but it can be challenging to apply them to trees with stems that diverge from an idealized norm, often leading to the exclusion of many trees from stem taper studies. Here, new “whole-tree” form type classes are advanced as simple and useful groupings for capturing stem form variation of trees of diverse morphological types and tested with a large tree data set without exclusion criteria. New form type classes explained much more of main stem form variation than knowledge of tree species, while “merchantable” form types explained the most variation between trees and stands. Broad-leaved species were much more likely to have complex stem forms than needle-leaved species, but species “evergreenness” was a very weak predictor of stem form variation when tree- and stand-level form variation was accounted for. A new, generalized framework for stem taper modeling is demonstrated, using both species and merchantable form types to capture tree-level random effects. New form types and the STM approach are relatively easy to apply and should be relatively simple to integrate into any conventional forest inventory system. Overall, the study demonstrates the importance of including and accounting for the diversity of observed stem forms in developing STMs.