Plant and Soil

, Volume 366, Issue 1–2, pp 133–141 | Cite as

Distinguishing natural from anthropogenic stress in plants: physiology, fluorescence and hyperspectral reflectance

  • Julie C. Zinnert
  • Stephen M. Via
  • Donald R Young
Regular Article


Background and Aims

Explosives released into the environment from munitions production, processing facilities, or buried unexploded ordnances can be absorbed by surrounding roots and induce toxic effects in leaves and stems. Research into the mechanisms with which explosives disrupt physiological processes could provide methods for discrimination of anthropogenic and natural stresses. Our objectives were to experimentally evaluate the effects of natural stress and explosives on plant physiology and to link differences among treatments to changes in hyperspectral reflectance for possible remote detection.


Photosynthesis, water relations, chlorophyll fluorescence, and hyperspectral reflectance were measured following four experimental treatments (drought, salinity, trinitrotoluene and hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-l,3,5-triazine) on two woody species. Principal Components Analyses of physiological and hyperspectral results were used to evaluate the differences among treatments.


Explosives induced different physiological responses compared to natural stress responses. Stomatal regulation over photosynthesis occurred due to natural stress, influencing energy dissipation pathways of excess light. Photosynthetic declines in explosives were likely the result of metabolic dysfunction. Select hyperspectral indices could discriminate natural stressors from explosives using changes in the red and near-infrared spectral region.


These results show the possibility of using variations in energy dissipation and hyperspectral reflectance to detect plants exposed to explosives in a laboratory setting and are promising for field application using plants as phytosensors to detect explosives contamination in soil.


Drought Salinity RDX TNT Hyperspectral reflectance Chlorophyll fluorescence Photosynthesis 



The authors thank Jared Austin and Jarrod Edwards for assistance in data collection. This research was supported by internal basic research program funds from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and (in part) by the U.S. Army RDECOM ARL Army Research Office under grant W911NF-06-1-0074.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag (outside the USA) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie C. Zinnert
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephen M. Via
    • 2
  • Donald R Young
    • 2
  1. 1.US Army ERDC, Fluorescence Spectroscopy LabAlexandriaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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