Abstract Large-scale inventories of forest biomass and structure are necessary for both understanding carbon dynamics and conserving biodiversity. High-resolution satellite imagery is starting to enable structural analysis of tropical forests over large areas, but we lack an understanding of how tropical forest biomass links to remote sensing. We quantified the spatial distribution of biomass and tree species diversity over 4 ha in a Bolivian lowland moist tropical forest, and then linked our field measurements to high-resolution Quickbird satellite imagery. Our field measurements showed that emergent and canopy dominant trees, being those directly visible from nadir remote sensors, comprised the highest diversity of tree species, represented 86% of all tree species found in our study plots, and contained the majority of forest biomass. Emergent trees obscured 1–15 trees with trunk diameters (at 1.3 m, diameter at breast height (DBH)) ≥20 cm, thus hiding 30–50% of forest biomass from nadir viewing. Allometric equations were developed to link remotely visible crown features to stand parameters, showing that the maximum tree crown length explains 50–70% of the individual tree biomass. We then developed correction equations to derive aboveground forest biomass, basal area, and tree density from tree crowns visible to nadir satellites. We applied an automated tree crown delineation procedure to a high-resolution panchromatic Quickbird image of our study area, which showed promise for identification of forest biomass at community scales, but which also highlighted the difficulties of remotely sensing forest structure at the individual tree level.