Global synthesis of leaf area index observations: Implications for ecological and remote sensing studies

Gregory P. Asner, Jonathan M.O. Scurlock, Jeffrey A. Hicke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

633 Scopus citations


We present the first global synthesis of plant canopy leaf area index (LAI) measurements from more than 1000 published estimates representing ∼400 unique field sites. LAI is a key variable for regional and global models of biosphere- atmosphere exchanges of energy, carbon dioxide, water vapour, and other materials. The location is global, geographically distributed. Biomes with LAI values well represented in the literature included croplands, forests and plantations,. Biomes not well represented were deserts, shrublands, tundra and wetlands. Nearly 40% of the records in the database were published in the past 10 years (1991-2000). with a further 20% collected between 1981 and 1990. Mean (± SD) LAI, distributed between 15 biome classes, ranged from 1.3 ± 0/9 for deserts to 8.7 ± 4.3 for tree plantations, with temperate evergreen forests (needleleaf and broadleaf) displaying the highest average LAI (5.1-6.7) among the natural terrestrial vegetation classes. Following a statistical outlier analysis, the global mean (± SD) LAI decreased from 5.2 (4.1) to 4.5 (2.5), with a maximum LAI of 1.8 Biomes with the highest LAI values were plantations > temperate evergreen forests > wetlands. Those with the lowest LAI values were deserts < grasslands < tundra. Mean LAI values for all biomes did not differ statistically by the methodology employed. Direct and indirect measurement approaches produced similar LAI results. Mean LAI values for all biomes combined decreased significantly in the 1990s, a period of substantially more studies and improved methodologies. Applications of the LAI database span a wide range of ecological, biogeochemical, physical, and climate research areas. The data provide input to terrestrial ecosystem and land-surface models, for evaluation of global remote sensing products, for comparisons to field studies, and other applications. Example uses of the database for global plant productivity, fractional energy absorption, and remote sensing studies are highlighted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-205
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Canopy structure
  • Ecosystem modelling
  • Global ecology
  • LAI
  • Leaf area index
  • Remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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