Airborne spectral and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors have been used to quantify biophysical characteristics of tropical forests. Lidar sensors have provided high-resolution data on forest height, canopy topography, volume, and gap size; and provided estimates on number of strata in a forest, successional status of forests, and above-ground biomass. Spectral sensors have provided data on vegetation types, foliar biochemistry content of forest canopies, tree and canopy phenology, and spectral signatures for selected tree species. A number of advances are theoretically possible with individual and combined spectral and lidar sensors for the study of forest structure, floristic composition and species richness. Delineating individual canopies of over-storey trees with small footprint lidar and discrimination of tree architectural types with waveform distributions is possible and would provide scientists with a new method to study tropical forest structure. Combined spectral and lidar data can be used to identify selected tree species and identify the successional status of tropical forest fragments in order to rank forest patches by levels of species richness. It should be possible in the near future to quantify selected patterns of tropical forests at a higher resolution than can currently be undertaken in the field or from space. ?? 2004 Taylor and Francis Ltd.