This study proposed a novel methodology to classify the shape of gaps using landscape indices and multivariate statistics. Patch-level indices were used to collect the qualified shape and spatial configuration characteristics for canopy gaps in the Lienhuachih Experimental Forest in Taiwan in 1998 and 2002. Non-hierarchical cluster analysis was used to assess the optimal number of gap clusters and canonical discriminant analysis was used to generate the discriminant functions for canopy gap classification. The gaps for the two periods were optimally classified into three categories. In general, gap type 1 had a more complex shape, gap type 2 was more elongated and gap type 3 had the largest gaps that were more regular in shape. The results were evaluated using Wilks' lambda as satisfactory (p < 0.001). The agreement rate of confusion matrices exceeded 96%. Differences in gap characteristics between the classified gap types that were determined using a one-way ANOVA showed a statistical significance in all patch indices (p = 0.00), except for the Euclidean nearest neighbor distance (ENN) in 2002. Taken together, these results demonstrated the feasibility and applicability of the proposed methodology to classify the shape of a gap.
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