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Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), a dominant shrub species in the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem of the western US, is declining from its historical distribution due to feedbacks between climate and land use change, fire, and invasive species. Quantifying aboveground biomass of sagebrush is important for assessing carbon storage and monitoring the presence and distribution of this rapidly changing dryland ecosystem. Models of shrub canopy volume, derived from terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) point clouds, were used to accurately estimate aboveground sagebrush biomass. Ninety-one sagebrush plants were scanned and sampled across three study sites in the Great Basin, USA. Half of the plants were scanned and destructively sampled in the spring (n = 46), while the other half were scanned again in the fall before destructive sampling (n = 45). The latter set of sagebrush plants was scanned during both spring and fall to further test the ability of the TLS to quantify seasonal changes in green biomass. Sagebrush biomass was estimated using both a voxel and a 3-D convex hull approach applied to TLS point cloud data. The 3-D convex hull model estimated total and green biomass more accurately (R2 = 0.92 and R2 = 0.83, respectively) than the voxel-based method (R2 = 0.86 and R2 = 0.73, respectively). Seasonal differences in TLS-predicted green biomass were detected at two of the sites (p < 0.001 and p = 0.029), elucidating the amount of ephemeral leaf loss in the face of summer drought. The methods presented herein are directly transferable to other dryland shrubs, and implementation of the convex hull model with similar sagebrush species is straightforward.

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NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Vol. 88, (2014)] DOI: 10.1016/j.isprsjprs.2013.12.006