Skip to main content
Log in

MODIS-based vegetation index has sufficient sensitivity to indicate stand-level intra-seasonal climatic stress in oak and beech forests

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Annals of Forest Science Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Variation in photosynthetic activity of trees induced by climatic stress can be effectively evaluated using remote sensing data. Although adverse effects of climate on temperate forests have been subjected to increased scrutiny, the suitability of remote sensing imagery for identification of drought stress in such forests has not been explored fully.


The study seeks to evaluate the sensitivity of MODIS-based vegetation index to heat and drought stress in temperate forests, and to explore the differences in stress response of oaks and beech.


We identified 8 oak and 13 beech pure and mature stands, each covering between 4 and 13 MODIS pixels. For each pixel, we extracted a time series of MODIS NDVI from 2000 to 2010. We identified all sequences of continuous unseasonal NDVI decline to be used as the response variable indicative of environmental stress. Neural network-based regression modelling was then applied to identify the climatic variables that best explain observed NDVI declines.


Tested variables explained 84–97 % of the variation in NDVI, whilst air temperature-related climate extremes were found to be the most influential. Beech showed a linear response to the most influential climatic predictors, while oak responded in a unimodal pattern suggesting a better coping mechanism.


MODIS NDVI has proved sufficiently sensitive as a stand-level indicator of climatic stress acting upon temperate broadleaf forests, leading to its potential use in predicting drought stress from meteorological observations and improving parameterisation of forest stress indices.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Allen CD, Macalady AK, Chenchouni H, Bachelet D, McDowell N, Vennetier M, Kitzberger T, Rigling A, Breshears DD, Hogg EH, Gonzalez P, Fensham R, Zhang Z, Castro J, Demidova N, Lim J-H, Allard G, Running SW, Semerci A, Cobb N (2010) A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests. For Ecol Manag 259:660–684

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bréda N, Huc R, Granier A, Dreyer E (2006) Temperate forest trees and stands under severe drought: a review of ecophysiological responses, adaptation processes and long-term consequences. Ann For Sci 63:625–664

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bruce LM, Mathur A, Byrd JD Jr (2006) Denoising and wavelet-based feature extraction of MODIS multi-temporal vegetation signatures. GISci Remote Sens 43:67–77

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caccamo G, Chisholm LA, Bradstock RA, Puotinen ML (2011) Assessing the sensitivity of MODIS to monitor drought in high biomass ecosystems. Remote Sens Environ 115:2626–2639

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ceccato P, Flasse S, Tarantola S, Jacquemoud S, Grégoire JM (2001) Detecting vegetation leaf water content using reflectance in the optical domain. Remote Sens Environ 77:22–33

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cheney P, Sullivan A (1997) Grassfires fuel, weather and fire behaviour. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood

    Google Scholar 

  • Clifford MJ, Royer PD, Cobb NS, Breshears DD, Ford PL (2013) Precipitation thresholds and drought-induced tree die-off: insights from patterns of Pinus Edulis mortality along an environmental stress gradient. New Phytol 200:413–421

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cochard H, Lemoine D, Dreyer E (1999) The effects of acclimation to sunlight on the xylem vulnerability to embolism in Fagus sylvatica L. Plant Cell Environ 22:101–108

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Czúcz B, Gálhidy L, Mátyás C (2011) Present and forecasted xeric climatic limits of beech and sessile oak distribution at low altitudes in Central Europe. Ann For Sci 68:99–108

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Engelbrecht BMJ, Kursar TA, Tyree MT (2005) Drought effects on seedling survival in a tropical moist forest. Trees Struct Funct 19:312–321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Epron D, Dreyer E (1993) Long-term effects of drought on photosynthesis of adult oak trees [Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl. and Quercus robur L.] in a natural stand. New Phytol 125:381–389

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Franch B, Vermote EF, Sobrino JA, Fédèle E (2013) Analysis of directional effects on atmospheric correction. Remote Sens Environ 128:276–288

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Geßler A, Keitel C, Kreuzwieser J, Matyssek R, Seiler W, Rennenberg H (2007) Potential risks for European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in a changing climate. Trees 21:1–11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glenn EP, Huete AR, Nagler PL, Nelson SG (2008) Relationship between remotely-sensed vegetation indices, canopy attributes, and plant physiological processes: What vegetation indices can and cannot tell us about the landscape. Sensors 8:2136–2160

    Article  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hlásny T, Barcza Z, Fabrika M, Balázs B, Churkina G, Pajtík J, Sedmák R, Turčáni M (2011a) Climate change impacts on growth and carbon balance of forests in Central Europe. Clim Res 47:219–236

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hlásny T, Křístek Š, Holuša J, Trombik J, Urbaňcová N (2011b) Snow disturbances in secondary Norway spruce forests in Central Europe: regression modeling and its implications for forest management. For Ecol Manag 262:2151–2161

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hmimina G, Dufrêne E, Pontailler J-Y, Delpierre N, Aubinet M, Caquet B, de Grancourt A, Burban B, Flechard C, Granier A, Gross P, Heinesch B, Longdoz B, Moureaux C, Ourcival J-M, Rambal S, Saint André L, Soudani K (2013) Evaluation of the potential of MODIS satellite data to predict vegetation phenology in different biomes: an investigation using ground-based NDVI measurements. Remote Sens Environ 132:145–158

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ji L, Peters AJ (2003) Assessing vegetation response to drought in the northern Great Plains using vegetation and drought indices. Remote Sens Environ 87:85–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ju J, Roy DP, Shuai Y, Schaaf C (2011) Development of an approach for generation of temporally complete daily nadir MODIS reflectance time series. Remote Sens Environ 114:1–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kotarba AZ (2009) A comparison of MODIS-derived cloud amount with visual surface observations. Atmos Res 92:522–530

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lakatos F, Molnár M (2009) Mass mortality of beech in South-West Hungary. Acta Silv Lign Hung 5:75–82

    Google Scholar 

  • Le Dantec V, Dufrêne E, Saugier B (2000) Interannual and spatial variation in maximum leaf area index of temperate deciduous stands. For Ecol Manag 134:71–81

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leuschner C, Backes K, Hertel D, Schipka F, Schmitt U, Terborg O, Runge M (2001) Drought responses at leaf, stem and fine root levels of competitive Fagus sylvatica L. and Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl. trees in dry and wet years. For Ecol Manag 149:33–46

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leuzinger S, Zotz G, Asshoff R, Körner C (2005) Responses of deciduous forest trees to severe drought in Central Europe. Tree Physiol 25:641–650

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lobo A, Maisongrande P, Coret L (2010) The impact of the heat wave of summer 2003 in SW Europe as observed from satellite imagery. Phys Chem Earth Parts A/B/C 35:19–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mátyás C, Berki I, Czúcz B, Gálos B, Móricz N, Rasztovits E (2010) Future of beech in Southeast Europe from the perspective of evolutionary ecology. Acta Silv Lign Hung 6:91–110

    Google Scholar 

  • McDowell N, Pockman WT, Allen CD, Breshears DD, Cobb N, Kolb T, Plaut J, Sperry J, West A, Williams DG, Yepez EA (2008) Mechanisms of plant survival and mortality during drought: why do some plants survive while others succumb to drought? New Phytol 178:719–739

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Myneni RB, Williams DL (1994) On the relationship between FPAR and NDVI. Remote Sens Environ 49:200–211

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nahm M, Matzarakis A, Rennenberg H, Geßler A (2007) Seasonal courses of key parameters of nitrogen, carbon and water balance in European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) grown on four different study sites along a European North–South climate gradient during the 2003 drought. Trees 21:79–92

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Plaut J, Wadsworth WD, Pangle R, Yepez EA, McDowell NG, Pockman WT (2013) Reduced transpiration response to precipitation pulses precedes mortality in a Piñon-Juniper woodland subject to prolonged drought. New Phytol 200:375–387

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Polle A, Schwanz P, Rudolf C (2001) Developmental and seasonal changes of stress responsiveness in beech leaves (Fagus sylvatica L.). Plant Cell Environ 24:821–829

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Raftoyannis Y, Radoglou K (2002) Physiological responses of beech and sessile oak in a natural mixed stand during a dry summer. Ann Bot 89:723–730

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Renaud JP, Nageleisen LM (2005) Results from the European Network For Damage Monitoring. Bilan de la santé des forêts en 2004, 2005, Département de la santé des forêts, Paris

  • Rennenberg H, Loreto F, Polle A, Brilli F, Fares S, Beniwal RS, Gessler A (2006) Physiological responses of forest trees to heat and drought. Plant Biol 8:556–571

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rouault G, Candau JN, Lieutier F, Nageleisen LM, Martin JC, Varzée N (2006) Effects of drought and heat on forest insect populations in relation to the 2003 drought in Western Europe. Ann For Sci 63:613–624

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sack L (2004) Responses of temperate woody seedlings to shade and drought: do trade-offs limit potential niche differentiation? Oikos 107:110–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scharnweber T, Manthey M, Criegee C, Bauwe A, Schröder C, Wilmking M (2011) Drought matters—declining precipitation influences growth of Fagus sylvatica L. and Quercus robur L. in north-eastern Germany. For Ecol Manag 262:947–961

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Soudani K, Hmimina G, Delpierre N, Pontailler J-Y, Aubinet M, Bonal D, Caquet B, de Grandcourt A, Burban B, Flechard C, Guyon D, Granier A, Gross P, Heinesh B, Longdoz B, Loustau D, Moureaux C, Ourcival J-M, Rambal S, Saint André L, Dufrêne E (2012) Ground-based Network of NDVI measurements for tracking temporal dynamics of canopy structure and vegetation phenology in different biomes. Remote Sens Environ 123:234–245

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomsen JE, Bohrer G, Matheny AM, Ivanov VY, He L, Renninger HJ, Schäfer KVR (2013) Contrasting hydraulic strategies during dry soil conditions in Quercus rubra and Acer rubrum in a sandy site in Michigan. Forests 4:1106–1120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vacchiano G, Garbarino M, Mondino EB, Motta R (2012) Evidences of drought stress as a predisposing factor to Scots pinedecline in Valle d’Aosta (Italy). Eur J For Res 131:989–1000

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Valladares F, Gianoli E, Gómez JM (2007) Ecological limits to plant phenotypic plasticity. New Phytol 176:749–763

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • van der Salm C, Reinds GJ, de Vries W (2007) Water balances in intensively monitored forest ecosystems in Europe. Environ Pollut 148:201–212

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vicente-Serrano SM, Beguería S, Lorenzo-Lacruz J, Camarero JJ, López-Moreno JI, Azorin-Molina C, Revuelto J, Morán-Tejeda E, Sanchez-Lorenzo A (2012) Performance of drought indices for ecological, agricultural, and hydrological applications. Earth Interact 16:1–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wamelink GWW, Wieggers HJJ, Reinds GJ, Kros J, Mol-Dijkstra JP, van Oijen M, de Vries W (2009) Modelling impacts of changes in carbon dioxide concentration, climate and nitrogen deposition on carbon sequestration by European forests and forest soils. For Ecol Manag 258:1794–1805

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wang J, Rich PM, Price KP (2003) Temporal responses of NDVI to precipitation and temperature in the central Great Plains, USA. Int J Remote Sens 24:2345–2364

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wang LL, Qu JJ, Xiong XX, Hao XJ (2009) Analysis of seven-year moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer vegetation water indices for drought and fire activity assessment over Georgia of the United States. J Appl Remote Sens 3:033555

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber P, Bugmann H, Pluess AR, Walthert L, Rigling A (2012) Drought response and changing mean sensitivity of European beech close to the dry distribution limit. Trees 27:171–181

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research is a result of the following projects: Project no. ITMS 26220120069 supported by the Operational Programme Research and Development funded by the European Regional Development Fund; Projects of the Slovak Research and Development Agency under contracts APVV-0111-10 and APVV-0022-07; and Project of the National Agency for Agriculture Research of the Czech Republic QJ1220317.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tomáš Hlásny.

Additional information

Handling Editor: Erwin Dreyer

Contribution of the co-authors

Tomáš Hlásny: writing the paper, interpreting results, coordinating the research project

Ivan Barka: processing the remote sensing data, managing project database

Zuzana Sitková: identifying experimental plots, analysing meteorological data

Tomáš Bucha: processing the remote sensing data, operating laboratory spectroradiometer

Milan Konôpka: processing the remote sensing data, identification of stress episodes

Martin Lukáč: co-writing the paper, interpreting results, proofreading

Executive summary

This study explores the suitability of MODIS satellite imagery for the detection of intra-seasonal heat and drought stress in temperate forests. It is clear that this data can provide valuable information complementary to forest stand-based ecophysiological research and allows for the quantification of inter-specific differences in stress response.



Fig. 6
figure 6

Example of experimental plots used for the investigation of MODIS-NDVI responses to climatic stress. Each experimental plot in our experimental design consists of 4–10 MODIS pixels (250 × 250 m)

Fig. 7
figure 7

An example of declining sequences of MODIS-NDVI identified in NDVI time series for selected beech and oak dominated MODIS pixels for the period 2000–2010. Such sequences are indicative of environmental stress affecting the physiological performance and spectral reflectance of vegetation

Fig. 8
figure 8

Reflectance of mature homogenous stands within two MODIS pixels with spatial resolution 250 × 250 m in red and near infrared (VNIR) spectral bands is shown in panes a and b. Pane a represents an 80-year-old pure oak stand (176 m a.s.l.) undergoing a rainless period lasting 18 days, while pane b shows values from a pixel covering an 80-year-old pure beech stand (536 m a.s.l.) affected by a 12-day-rainless period. Panes a1 and b1 show raw reflectance values, while a2 and b2 show percentage change relative to the reflectance of unstressed vegetation before the rainless period. Spectral reflectance values in panes c were measured by the LI-1800 Portable Spectroradiometer using 1800-12 Integration Sphere (Licor Inc., USA) collecting radiation reflected from the sampled material illuminated by a glass-halogen lamp. Three fresh overlapping leaves of Quercus robur were positioned in the sphere chamber and reflectance readings were recorded for 54 h with unequal time step in the spectral range 400–1,100 nm. At the end of the observation, the leaves were dry beyond natural range found in the obvious field conditions in Central Europe. This supplementary analysis shows that spectral change in leaves with limited water availability observed by the MODIS sensor at stand scale is very consistent with changes observed in laboratory conditions at the leaf scale. The fact that the latter is free of any atmospheric interferences indicates that, despite the limited comparability of the two sets of spectral responses, daily MODIS data can provide realistic information on intra-seasonal vegetation stress dynamics

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hlásny, T., Barka, I., Sitková, Z. et al. MODIS-based vegetation index has sufficient sensitivity to indicate stand-level intra-seasonal climatic stress in oak and beech forests. Annals of Forest Science 72, 109–125 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: