Modeling in forestry using mixture models fitted to grouped and ungrouped data

Eric K. Zenner, Mahdi Teimouri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The creation and maintenance of complex forest structures has become an important forestry objective. Complex forest structures, often expressed in multimodal shapes of tree size/diameter (DBH) distributions, are challenging to model. Mixture probability density functions of two-or three-component gamma, log-normal, and Weibull mixture models offer a solution and can additionally provide insights into forest dynamics. Model parameters can be efficiently estimated with the maximum likelihood (ML) approach using iterative methods such as the Newton-Raphson (NR) algorithm. However, the NR algorithm is sensitive to the choice of initial values and does not always converge. As an alternative, we explored the use of the iterative expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm for estimating parameters of the aforementioned mixture models because it always converges to ML estimators. Since forestry data frequently occur both in grouped (classified) and ungrouped (raw) forms, the EM algorithm was applied to explore the goodness-of-fit of the gamma, log-normal, and Weibull mixture distributions in three sample plots that exhibited irregular, multimodal, highly skewed, and heavy-tailed DBH distributions where some size classes were empty. The EM-based goodness-of-fit was further compared against a nonparametric kernel-based density estimation (NK) model and the recently popularized gamma-shaped mixture (GSM) models using the ungrouped data. In this example application, the EM algorithm provided well-fitting two-or three-component mixture models for all three model families. The number of components of the best-fitting models differed among the three sample plots (but not among model families) and the mixture models of the log-normal and gamma families provided a better fit than the Weibull distribution for grouped and ungrouped data. For ungrouped data, both log-normal and gamma mixture distributions outper-formed the GSM model and, with the exception of the multimodal diameter distribution, also the NK model. The EM algorithm appears to be a promising tool for modeling complex forest structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1196
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry


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