Scaling-up individual-level allometric equations to predict stand-level fuel loading in Mediterranean shrublands

Allometric biomass equations developed for individual shrubs can be applied to estimate shrubland fuels from measurements of cover and average height by species.

Context Shrubs are a major component of surface fuels in many fire-prone ecosystems. Shrub fuel loading is often estimated by “double sampling”, where data from a destructive vegetation survey is used to model vegetation-fuel relationships (development phase), and these relationships are then applied to vegetation data from a second survey (application phase). Vegetation-fuel relationships can be modeled at different levels of vegetation detail, from individual plants to stands, but the increased effort of detailed measurements may compromise large-scale applications.
Aims To facilitate fuel loading assessments in Mediterranean shrublands, we present and test a novel method to estimate stand-level shrub loading that consists in applying individual-level allometric equations to vegetation plot data collected by measuring the percent cover and mean height of each shrub species.
Methods We used individual-level data (i.e., plant dimensions and dry weights) to develop allometric equations for total and fine (leaves and branches < 6 mm) biomass of 26 Mediterranean shrub species. We then evaluated the accuracy and precision of the proposed method in comparison to an approach assuming constant bulk density, using data from 131 vegetation plots and taking as benchmark stand-level loading estimates derived by aggregation of individual biomass allometric estimates. A second set of 13 plots was used to quantify the additional error derived from visual estimation of species mean height and cover.
Results The performance of species-specific models was acceptable in estimating total and fine biomass at the individual level. When based on species mean height and cover data, stand-level fuel loading estimates calculated using the proposed method had a better precision and accuracy than those obtained using bulk density values (− 4 vs. + 39% in relative bias; 10 vs. 40% in relative MAE). Visual estimation of species mean height and percent cover led to 10 and 16% increase in MAE for species loading estimates of total and fine fuels, respectively, with respect to estimates obtained without this source of error.
Conclusions Our approach to estimate shrub loading allows combining fast species-level vegetation sampling with the flexibility of individual-level allometries to model to size-related variations of bulk density.

Bulk density, Fine fuels, Fuel loading, Fuel mapping, Vegetation sampling

De Cáceres, M., Casals, P., Gabriel, E. et al. Annals of Forest Science (2019) 76: 87.

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Data availability
The dataset used to develop individual-based allometries has been included in the R package “medfuels,” publicly available as a GitHub repository ( and in the Zenodo repository (De Cáceres et al. 2019) at The two datasets used for evaluation of the proposed method are available under request.

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