Accurate estimates of the total biomass in terrestrial vegetation are important for carbon dynamics studies at a variety of scales. Although aboveground biomass is difficult to quantify over large areas using traditional techniques, lidar remote sensing holds great promise for biomass estimation because it directly measures components of canopy structure such as canopy height and the vertical distribution of intercepted canopy surfaces. In this study, our primary goal was to explore the sensitivity of lidar to differences in canopy structure and aboveground biomass in a dense, neotropical rainforest. We first examined the relationship between simple vertical canopy profiles derived from field measurements and the estimated aboveground biomass (EAGB) across a range of field plots located in primary and secondary tropical rainforest and in agroforesty areas. We found that metrics from field-derived vertical canopy profiles are highly correlated (R2 up to .94) with EAGB across the entire range of conditions sampled. Next, we found that vertical canopy profiles from a large-footprint lidar instrument were closely related with coincident field profiles, and that metrics from both field and lidar profiles are highly correlated. As a result, metrics from lidar profiles are also highly correlated (R2 up to .94) with EAGB across this neotropical landscape. These results help to explain the nature of the relationship between lidar data and EAGB, and also lay the foundation to explore the generality of the relationship between vertical canopy profiles and biomass in other tropical regions.