Variables describing the abiotic environment (e.g. climate, topography or biogeographic history) have a long tradition of use as predictors of tree species richness patterns. However, these variables may capture variations in richness related to climate, but not those that are related to soil type or forest disturbance. Canopy structure has previously been shown to provide information on the variation of tree species richness, with richness generally increasing with larger canopy heights and denser foliage. The use of canopy structure is increasingly relevant with the availability of such data from the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), a lidar mission onboard the International Space Station.
In this analysis we show that GEDI canopy structure explains up to 66% of the variation in tree species richness in natural forests without a history of recent disturbance across the globe. However, this portion overlaps with the variation (up to 80%) explained by environmental and biogeographical variables. Our results show that relationships between tree species richness on one side and climate and canopy structure on the other side are not as straightforward as we initially expected, and should be further investigated across both natural and disturbed forests.