Predictive modelling and uncertainty quantification of UK forest growth
Lonsdale, Jack Henry
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Forestry in the UK is dominated by coniferous plantations. Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) are the most prevalent species and are mostly grown in single age mono-culture stands. Forest strategy for Scotland, England, and Wales all include efforts to achieve further afforestation. The aim of this afforestation is to provide a multi-functional forest with a broad range of benefits. Due to the time scale involved in forestry, accurate forecasts of stand productivity (along with clearly defined uncertainties) are essential to forest managers. These can be provided by a range of approaches to modelling forest growth. In this project model comparison, Bayesian calibration, and data assimilation methods were all used to attempt to improve forecasts and understanding of uncertainty therein of the two most important conifers in UK forestry. Three different forest growth models were compared in simulating growth of Scots pine. A yield table approach, the process-based 3PGN model, and a Stand Level Dynamic Growth (SLeDG) model were used. Predictions were compared graphically over the typical productivity range for Scots pine in the UK. Strengths and weaknesses of each model were considered. All three produced similar growth trajectories. The greatest difference between models was in volume and biomass in unthinned stands where the yield table predicted a much larger range compared to the other two models. Future advances in data availability and computing power should allow for greater use of process-based models, but in the interim more flexible dynamic growth models may be more useful than static yield tables for providing predictions which extend to non-standard management prescriptions and estimates of early growth and yield. A Bayesian calibration of the SLeDG model was carried out for both Sitka spruce and Scots pine in the UK for the first time. Bayesian calibrations allow both model structure and parameters to be assessed simultaneously in a probabilistic framework, providing a model with which forecasts and their uncertainty can be better understood and quantified using posterior probability distributions. Two different structures for including local productivity in the model were compared with a Bayesian model comparison. A complete calibration of the more probable model structure was then completed. Example forecasts from the calibration were compatible with existing yield tables for both species. This method could be applied to other species or other model structures in the future. Finally, data assimilation was investigated as a way of reducing forecast uncertainty. Data assimilation assumes that neither observations nor models provide a perfect description of a system, but combining them may provide the best estimate. SLeDG model predictions and LiDAR measurements for sub-compartments within Queen Elizabeth Forest Park were combined with an Ensemble Kalman Filter. Uncertainty was reduced following the second data assimilation in all of the state variables. However, errors in stand delineation and estimated stand yield class may have caused observational uncertainty to be greater thus reducing the efficacy of the method for reducing overall uncertainty.