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Retrieving LAI, chlorophyll and nitrogen contents in sugar beet crops from multi-angular optical remote sensing: Comparison of vegetation indices and PROSAIL inversion for field phenotyping

  • Jay, Sylvain
  • Maupas, Fabienne
  • Bendoula, Ryad
  • Gorretta, Nathalie
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2017
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Remote sensing has gained much attention for agronomic applications such as crop management or yield estimation. Crop phenotyping under field conditions has recently become another important application that requires specific needs: the considered remote-sensing method must be (1) as accurate as possible so that slight differences in phenotype can be detected and related to genotype, and (2) robust so that thousands of cultivars potentially quite different in terms of plant architecture can be characterized with a similar accuracy over different years and soil and weather conditions. In this study, the potential of nadir and off-nadir ground-based spectro-radiometric measurements to remotely sense five plant traits relevant for field phenotyping, namely, the leaf area index (LAI), leaf chlorophyll and nitrogen contents, and canopy chlorophyll and nitrogen contents, was evaluated over fourteen sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.) cultivars, two years and three study sites. Among the diversity of existing remote-sensing methods, two popular approaches based on various selected Vegetation Indices (VI) and PROSAIL inversion were compared, especially in the perspective of using them for phenotyping applications. Overall, both approaches are promising to remotely estimate LAI and canopy chlorophyll content (RMSE'10%). In addition, VIs show a great potential to retrieve canopy nitrogen content (RMSE=10%). On the other hand, the estimation of leaf-level quantities is less accurate, the best accuracy being obtained for leaf chlorophyll content estimation based on VIs (RMSE=17%). As expected when observing the relationship between leaf chlorophyll and nitrogen contents, poor correlations are found between VIs and mass-based or area-based leaf nitrogen content. Importantly, the estimation accuracy is strongly dependent on sun-sensor geometry, the structural and biochemical plant traits being generally better estimated based on nadir and off-nadir observations, respectively. Ultimately, a preliminary comparison tends to indicate that, providing that enough samples are included in the calibration set, (1) VIs provide slightly more accurate performances than PROSAIL inversion, (2) VIs and PROSAIL inversion do not show significant differences in robustness across the different cultivars and years. Even if more data are still necessary to draw definitive conclusions, the results obtained with VIs are promising in the perspective of high-throughput phenotyping using UAV-embedded multispectral cameras, with which only a few wavebands are available.

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