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Optical sensing estimation of leaf nitrogen concentration in maize across a range of water-stress levels.

Wang, T.-C., Ma, B.-L., Xiong, Y-C., Saleem, M.F., and Li, F.-M. (2011). "Optical sensing estimation of leaf nitrogen concentration in maize across a range of water-stress levels.", Crop & Pasture Science, 62(6), pp. 474-480. doi : 10.1071/CP10374  Access to full text


Optical sensing techniques offer an instant estimation of leaf nitrogen (N) concentration during the crop growing season. Differences in plant-moisture status, however, can obscure the detection of differences in N levels. This study presents a vegetation index that robustly measures differences in foliar N levels across a range of plant moisture levels. A controlled glasshouse study with maize (Zea mays L.) subjected to both water and N regimes was conducted in Ottawa, Canada. The purpose of the study was to identify spectral waveband(s), or indices derived from different wavebands, such as the normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI), that are capable of detecting variations in leaf N concentration in response to different water and N stresses. The experimental design includes three N rates and three water regimes in a factorial arrangement. Leaf chlorophyll content and spectral reflectance (400-1075 nm) were measured on the uppermost fully expanded leaves at the V6, V9 and V12 growth stages (6th, 9th and 12th leaves fully expanded). N concentrations of the same leaves were determined using destructive sampling. A quantitative relationship between leaf N concentration and the normalised chlorophyll index (normalised to well fertilised and well irrigated plants) was established. Leaf N concentration was also a linear function (R2 = 0.9, P < 0.01) of reflectance index (NDVI550,760) at the V9 and V12 growth stages. Chlorophyll index increased with N nutrition, but decreased with water stress. Leaf reflectance at wavebands of 550 ± 5 nm and 760 ± 5 nm were able to separate water- and N-stressed plants from normal growing plants with sufficient water and N supply. Our results suggest that NDVI550,760 and normalised chlorophyll index hold promise for the assessment of leaf N concentration at the leaf level of both normal and water-stressed maize plants.

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