The impact of tree canopy structure on understory variation in a boreal forest

Titta Majasalmi*, Miina Rautiainen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
221 Downloads (Pure)


Information on understory composition and its relationships with the overstory tree canopy, especially leaf area index (LAI), is crucially needed in, e.g., modeling land-atmosphere interactions and productivity of forests. There are also several global LAI products produced from satellite data which need to be validated with ground reference data. However, to date, only scarce field data on simultaneous structural properties of under- and overstory vegetation, and tree canopy LAI, have been available in boreal forests. This paper shows how understory composition and fractional cover of different species types varies in a boreal forest site, and how it is linked to structural properties of the tree layer. The study is based on 301 understory plots collected in an area of ∼16 km2 around Hyytiälä forestry field station, Finland (61°50′N, 24°17′E) in a southern boreal forest site. Forest understory plot data was accompanied with measurements of both standard forest inventory variables and optically-based canopy light transmittance data. Clear differences in average species composition between different site fertility types were observed, but also large variation within each site fertility type was noted. Forest understory composition was better correlated with structural forest canopy measures (e.g., tree canopy LAI, canopy cover, canopy openness) than with traditional forest inventory variables such as tree height or diameter. Forest canopy LAI and the fractional cover of understory were strongly related, especially in more fertile sites. Our results highlight the role of tree canopy structural metrics as modifiers of the understory light climate and growing conditions, also, in boreal forests.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118100
Number of pages8
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Canopy cover
  • Canopy openness
  • Forest canopy
  • Hyytiälä
  • LAI
  • Leaf area index
  • Site fertility


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