Precision Agriculture

, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 355–366 | Cite as

Spatio-temporal variations of photosynthesis: the potential of optical remote sensing to better understand and scale light use efficiency and stresses of plant ecosystems



The light use efficiency (LUE) of photosynthesis dynamically adapts to environmental factors, and this leads to complex spatio-temporal variations of photosynthesis on various scales from the leaf to the canopy level. These spatio-temporal pattern formations not only help to understand the regulatory properties of photosynthesis, but may also have a constructive role in maintaining stability in metabolic pathways and during development. Optical remote sensing techniques have the potential to detect physiological and biochemical changes in plant ecosystems, and non-invasive detection of changes in photosynthetic energy conversion may be of great potential for managing agricultural production in a future bio-based economy. Here we review the results from selected remote sensing projects for their potential to quantify LUE from the level of single leaves to the canopy scale. In a case study with soybean grown under elevated CO2 conditions at the SoyFACE facility, we tested the photochemical reflectance index (PRI) for its capacity to quantify higher photosynthetic efficiency. In this study the PRI failed to detect differences in photosynthetic light conversion, most likely because of the variable canopy structure of the soybean canopy. We thus conclude that at the current state of the art the PRI cannot serve as an easy remote sensing approach to detect changes in photosynthetic energy conversion in agriculture. As an alternative we present approaches that aim to quantify the fluorescence signal of chlorophyll and thus estimate photosynthetic efficiency. In a second case study, using avocado as a model species, an active laser induced fluorescence transient (LIFT) method was applied to deliver maps of different photosynthetic efficiency within the canopy. Cold-induced down-regulation of photosynthesis in the upper canopy was detected, so active fluorescence may prove its potential for non-invasive monitoring of crops. With a view to the future, we present a method for large scale managing of agricultural practices within the framework of the FLuorescence EXplorer (FLEX) mission, which proposed launching a satellite for the global monitoring of steady-state chlorophyll fluorescence in terrestrial vegetation. This mission was selected for inclusion in pre-phase A by the European Space Agency.


Photosynthesis Optical remote sensing Photochemical reflectance index Chlorophyll fluorescence Spatio-temporal mapping Soybean Glycine max (L.) Merr. Avocado 



We thank Elizabeth Ainsworth, Andrew Leakey and Steve Long (University of Urbana-Champaign) for supporting our measurements at SoyFACE. SoyFACE was supported by the Illinois Council for Food and Agricultural Research, Archer Daniels Midland Company, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. We also thank Joe Berry and Zbigniew Kolber for making the measurements with LIFT possible.


  1. Ainsworth, E. A., & Long, S. P. (2005). What have we learned from 15 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE)? A meta-analytic review of the responses of photosynthesis, canopy properties and plant production to rising CO2. The New Phytologist, 165, 351–372.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ananyev, G., Kolber, Z. S., Klimov, D., Falkowski, P. G., Berry, J. A., Rascher, U., et al. (2005). Remote sensing of heterogeneity in photosynthetic efficiency, electron transport and dissipation of excess light in Populus deltoides stands under ambient and elevated CO2 concentrations, and in a tropical forest canopy, using a new laser-induced fluorescence transient device. Global Change Biology, 11, 1195–1206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker, N. R. (2008). Chlorophyll fluorescence: A probe of photosynthesis in vivo. Annual Review of Plant Biology, 59, 89–113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barton, C. V. M., & North, P. R. J. (2001). Remote sensing of canopy light use efficiency using the photochemical reflectance index; model and sensitivity analysis. Remote Sensing of Environment, 78, 264–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biskup, B., Scharr, H., Schurr, U., & Rascher, U. (2007). A stereo imaging system for measuring structural parameters of plant canopies. Plant Cell and Environment, 30, 1299–1308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buschmann, C. (2007). Variability and application of the chlorophyll fluorescence emission ratio red/far-red of leaves. Photosynthesis Research, 92, 261–271.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Filella, I., Peñuelas, J., Llorens, L., & Estiarte, M. (2004). Reflectance assessment of seasonal and annual changes in biomass and CO2 uptake of a Mediterranean shrubland submitted to experimental warming and drought. Remote Sensing of Environment, 90, 308–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Flexas, J., Briantais, J.-M., Cerovic, Z. G., Medrano, H., & Moya, I. (2000). Steady-state and maximum chlorophyll fluorescence responses to water stress in grapevine leaves: A new remote sensing system. Remote Sensing of Environment, 73, 283–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Flexas, J., Escalona, J. M., Evain, S., Gulias, J., Moya, I., Osmond, C. B., et al. (2002). Steady-state chlorophyll fluorescence (Fs) measurements as a tool to follow variations of net CO2 assimilation and stomatal conductance during water-stress in C3 plants. Physiologia Plantarum, 114, 231–240.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Franck, F., Juneau, P., & Popovic, R. (2002). Resolution of the Photosystem I and Photosystem II contributions to chlorophyll fluorescence of intact leaves at room temperature. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1556, 239–246.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Franke, J., Menz, G., Oerke, E. C., & Rascher, U. (2005) Comparison of multi- and hyperspectral imaging data of leaf rust infected wheat plants. In M. Owe & G. D’Urso (Eds.), Remote sensing for agriculture, ecosystems, and hydrology VII, Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 5976, 59761D, doi: 10.1117/12.626531.
  12. Gamon, J. A., Peñuelas, J., & Field, C. B. (1992). A narrow-waveband spectral index that tracks diurnal changes in photosynthetic efficiency. Remote Sensing of Environment, 41, 35–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Genty, B., Briantais, J.-M., & Baker, N. R. (1989). The relationship between the quantum yield of photosynthetic electron transport and quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 990, 87–92.Google Scholar
  14. Gower, S. T., Kucharik, C. J., & Norman, J. M. (1999). Direct and indirect estimation of leaf area index, f(APAR), and net primary production of terrestrial ecosystems. Remote Sensing of Environment, 70, 29–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guo, J. M., & Trotter, C. M. (2004). Estimating photosynthetic light-use efficiency using the photochemical reflectance index: Variations among species. Functional Plant Biology, 31, 255–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kolber, Z., Klimov, D., Ananyev, G., Rascher, U., Berry, J. A., & Osmond, C. B. (2005). Measuring photosynthetic parameters at a distance: Laser induced fluorescence transient (LIFT) method for remote measurements of PSII in terrestrial vegetation. Photosynthesis Research, 84, 121–129.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kolber, Z. S., Prasil, O., & Falkowski, P. G. (1998). Measurements of variable chlorophyll fluorescence using fast repetition rate techniques: Defining methodology and experimental protocols. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1367, 88–106.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lichtenthaler, H. K., & Rinderle, U. (1988). The role of chlorophyll fluorescence in the detection of stress conditions in plants. Critical Reviews in Analytical Chemistry, 19, S29–S85.Google Scholar
  19. Long, S. P., Ainsworth, E. A., Leakey, A. D. B., Nösberger, J., & Ort, D. R. (2006a). Food for thought: Lower-than-expected crop yield stimulation with rising CO2 concentrations. Science, 312, 1918–1921.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Long, S. P., Zhu, X.-G., Naidu, S. L., & Ort, D. R. (2006b). Can improvement in photosynthesis increase crop yields? Plant Cell & Environment, 29, 315–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Methy, M. (2000). Analysis of photosynthetic activity at the leaf and canopy levels from reflectance measurements: A case study. Photosynthetica, 38, 505–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Monteith, J. L. (1972). Solar radiation and productivity in tropical ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology, 9, 747–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Monteith, J. L. (1977). Climate and efficiency of crop production in Britain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences, 281, 277–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Morgan, P. B., Ainsworth, E. A., & Long, S. P. (2003). How does elevated ozone impact soybean? A meta-analysis of photosynthesis, growth and yield. Plant Cell and Environment, 26, 1317–1328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moya, I., Camenen, L., Evain, S., Goulas, Y., Cerovic, Z. G., Latouche, G., et al. (2004). A new instrument for passive remote sensing—1. Measurements of sunlight-induced chlorophyll fluorescence. Remote Sensing of Environment, 91, 186–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Plascyk, J. A., & Gabriel, F. C. (1975). The Fraunhofer line discriminator MKII—an airborne instrument for precise and standardized ecological luminescence measurements. IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement, 24, 306–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rascher, U. (2007). FLEX-FLuorescence EXplorer: A remote sensing approach to quantify spatio-temporal variations of photosynthetic efficiency from space. Photosynthesis Research, 91, 293–294.Google Scholar
  28. Rascher, U., Liebig, M., & Lüttge, U. (2000). Evaluation of instant light-response curves of chlorophyll-fluorescence parameters obtained with a portable chlorophyll fluorometer on site in the field. Plant Cell & Environment, 23, 1397–1405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rascher, U., & Nedbal, L. (2006). Dynamics of plant photosynthesis under fluctuating natural conditions. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 9, 671–678.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rascher, U., Nichol, C. L., Small, C., & Hendricks, L. (2007). Monitoring spatio-temporal dynamics of photosynthesis with a portable hyperspectral imaging system. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 73, 45–56.Google Scholar
  31. Rogers, A., Allen, D. J., Davey, P. A., Morgan, P. B., Ainsworth, E. A., Bernacchi, C. J., et al. (2004). Leaf photosynthesis and carbohydrate dynamics of soybeans grown throughout their life-cycle under free-air carbon dioxide enrichment. Plant Cell and Environment, 27, 449–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ruimy, A., Saugier, B., & Dedieu, G. (1995). Methodology for the estimation of terrestrial net primary production from remotely sensed data. Journal of Geophysical Research, 99, 5263–5283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schreiber, U., & Bilger, W. (1993). Progress in chlorophyll fluorescence research: Major developments during the past years in retrospect. Proceedings of Botany, 53, 151–173.Google Scholar
  34. Schreiber, U., Bilger, W., & Neubauer, C. (1995). Chlorophyll fluorescence as a nonintrusive indicator for rapid assessment of in vivo photosynthesis. In E. D. Schulze & M. M. Caldwell (Eds.), Ecophysiology of photosynthesis (pp. 49–70). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  35. Schulze, E. D., & Caldwell, M. M. (Eds.) (1995). Ecophysiology of photosynthesis. Ecological studies (Vol. 100). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  36. Schurr, U., Walter, A., & Rascher, U. (2006). Functional dynamics of plant growth and photosynthesis—from steady-state to dynamics—from homogeneity to heterogeneity. Plant Cell & Environment, 29, 340–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Weis, E., & Berry, J. A. (1987). Quantum efficiency of Photosystem II in relation to 'energy'-dependent quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 894, 198–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Chemistry and Dynamics of the Geosphere, ICG-3: PhytosphereForschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany
  2. 2.Department of Global EcologyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations