Nearest neighbor imputation of species-level, plot-scale forest structure attributes from LiDAR data

Andrew T. Hudak, Nicholas L. Crookston, Jeffrey S. Evans, David E. Hall, Michael J. Falkowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

270 Scopus citations


Meaningful relationships between forest structure attributes measured in representative field plots on the ground and remotely sensed data measured comprehensively across the same forested landscape facilitate the production of maps of forest attributes such as basal area (BA) and tree density (TD). Because imputation methods can efficiently predict multiple response variables simultaneously, they may be usefully applied to map several structural attributes at the species-level. We compared several approaches for imputing the response variables BA and TD, aggregated at the plot-scale and species-level, from topographic and canopy structure predictor variables derived from discrete-return airborne LiDAR data. The predictor and response variables were associated using imputation techniques based on normalized and unnormalized Euclidean distance, Mahalanobis distance, Independent Component Analysis (ICA), Canonical Correlation Analysis (aka Most Similar Neighbor, or MSN), Canonical Correspondence Analysis (aka Gradient Nearest Neighbor, or GNN), and Random Forest (RF). To compare and evaluate these approaches, we computed a scaled Root Mean Square Distance (RMSD) between observed and imputed plot-level BA and TD for 11 conifer species sampled in north-central Idaho. We found that RF produced the best results overall, especially after reducing the number of response variables to the most important species in each plot with regard to BA and TD. We concluded that RF was the most robust and flexible among the imputation methods we tested. We also concluded that canopy structure and topographic metrics derived from LiDAR surveys can be very useful for species-level imputation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2232-2245
Number of pages14
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 15 2008


  • Forestry
  • LiDAR remote sensing
  • Mapping
  • Random forest
  • k-NN imputation

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