Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Published in Remote Sensing of Environment 190 (2017), pp. 198–206.


Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.


The goal of this study was to explore the relationships between stand-level photochemical reflectance index (PRI) and canopy structure/ pigment pools, as well as light use efficiency (LUE) of photosynthetically active vegetation focusing on seasonal or ontogenetic time frames. PRI was originally designed as a means of assessing the xanthophyll cycle and LUE over short (e.g. diurnal) time frames, and few studies have explored the drivers of PRI over longer, seasonal time frames, particularly in crops having different photosynthetic pathways or canopy structures. Consequently, our purpose was to understand and quantify the drivers of PRI responses over seasonal time scales for two crops, maize (C4) and soybean (C3), contrasting in photosynthetic pathway, leaf structure and canopy architecture. In both crops, PRI was very closely related to green LAI (R2 > 0.90) and stand chlorophyll (Chl) content (R2 > 0.93). The slopes of the relationships in different phenological stages, vegetative and reproductive, were substantially different (3-fold smaller in the vegetative stage). The main cause of this disparity was the high PRI value of soil/residue background. While PRI was a sensitive indicator of the changes in stand green LAI and stand Chl content over the full growing season, it was not sensitive to LUE; LUE explained below 12% of PRI variation in maize and 19% in soybean. Unlike leaf-level PRI, stand-level PRI was not clearly related to the Car/Chl ratio, presumably because the large changes in canopy structure (affecting stand Chl and green LAI) had a dominant influence on PRI over this time frame. The strong relationship between PRI and stand Chl content as well as between PRI and Chl-related vegetation index over a growing cycle allowed us to subtract the stand Chl content effect from measured PRI to reveal the component of PRI most likely related to periods of stress. However, for accurate subtraction of the Chl effect from long-term PRI records, thoughtful study of uncertainties related to “natural” variation of PRI-stand Chl relationships, and stand Chl content estimation for different varieties of the same species and for different species is required. The findings of a strong link between stand-level PRI and stand green LAI and Chl content and the lack of a clear relationship between PRI and LUE over seasonal and ontogenetic time spans suggest the need for a more careful evaluation of the relationship between PRI and either LUE or photosynthetic activity. In particular, studies that contrast short-term (e.g. diurnal) vs. long-term (e.g. seasonal) pigment, PRI, and photosynthetic responses in contrasting vegetation types are needed to clarify the different mechanisms involved at different temporal and spatial scales. These findings have important implications for attempts to monitor photosynthetic phenology from remote sensing, many of which have relied on PRI as an indicator of photosynthetic activity.