Skip to main content

NDVI as a potential tool for predicting biomass, plant nitrogen content and growth in wheat genotypes subjected to different water and nitrogen conditions


The application of spectroradiometric index such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) to assess green biomass or nitrogen (N) content has focused on the plant canopy in precision agriculture or breeding programs. However, little is known about the usefulness of these techniques in isolated plants. The few reports available propose the use of a spectroradiometer in combination with special adaptors that improve signal acquisition from plants, but this makes measurements relatively slow and unsuitable. Here we studied the direct use (i.e. without adaptors) of a commercial cost-effective spectroradiometer, GreenSeeker™ (NTech Industries Ins., Ukiah, California, USA) provided with an active sensor (i.e. equipped with its own source of radiation) for measuring NDVI in four genotypes of durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L. var. durum) grown in pots under a range of water and N regimes. Strong correlations were observed between NDVI measurements and dry aboveground biomass (AB), total green area (TGA), green area without spikes (GA) and aboveground N content (AN). To prove the predictive ability of NDVI measured under potted conditions, linear regression models for each growth trait and for plant N content were built with the data of two genotypes. The models accurately predicted growth traits and N content, confirming the direct relationship between total plant biomass and spectroradiometric readings.



total green area per plant


green area without spikes


normalized difference vegetation index


root mean square error


relative error


aboveground biomass


aboveground nitrogen content


  • Alvaro, F., García del Moral, L.F., Royo, C. 2007. Usefulness of remote sensing for the assessment of growth traits in individual cereal plants grown in the field. Int. J. Remote Sensing 28:2497–2512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aparicio, N., Villegas, D., Araus, J.L., Casadesús J., Royo, C. 2002. Relationship between growth traits and spectral vegetation indices in durum wheat. Crop Sci. 42:1547–1555.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aparicio, N., Villegas, D., Casadesús, J., Araus, J.L., Royo, C. 2000. Spectral vegetation indices as a non-destructive tools for determining durum wheat yield. Agron. J. 92:83–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aparicio, N., Villegas, D., Royo, C., CasadesÚs, J., Araus, J.L. 2004. Effect of sensor view angle on the assessment of agronomic traits by ground level hyper-spectral reflectance measurements in durum wheat under contrasting Mediterranean conditions. Int. J. Remote Sensing 25:1131–1152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Araus, J.L. 1996. Integrative physiological criteria associated with yield potential. In: Reynolds, M.P., Rajaram, S., McNab, A. (eds), Increasing Yield Potential in Wheat: Breaking Barriers. CIMMYT, Mexico D.F., pp. 150–166.

    Google Scholar 

  • Araus, J.L., Casadesús, J., Bort, J. 2001. Recent tools for the screening of physiological traits determining yield. In: Reynolds, M.P., Ortiz-Monasterio, J.I., McNab, A. (eds), Application of Physiol. in Wheat Breeding. CIMMYT, Mexico D.F., pp. 59–77.

    Google Scholar 

  • Babar, M.A., Reynolds, M.P., van Ginkel, M., Klatt, A.R., Raun, W.R., Stone, M.L. 2006. Spectral reflectance to estimate genetic variation for in-season biomass, leaf chlorophyll, and canopy temperature in wheat. Crop Sci. 46:1046–1057.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bellairs, S.M., Turner, N.C., Hick, P.T., Smith, R.C.G. 1996. Plant and soil influences on estimating biomass of wheat in plant breeding plots using field spectral radiometers. Aust. J. Agricult. Res. 47:1017–1034.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borel, C., Simonneau, T., This, D., Tardieu, F. 1997. Stomatal conductance and ABA concentration in the xylem sap of barley lines of contrasting genetic origins. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 24:607–615.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bort, J., Casadesús, J., Araus, J.L., Grando, S., Ceccarelli, S. 2002. Spectral vegetation indices as nondestructive indicators of barley yield in Mediterranean rain-fed conditions. In: Slafer, G.A., Molina-Cano, J.L., Savin, R., Araus, J.L., Romagosa, I. (eds), Barley Science Recent Advances from Molecular Biology to Agronomy of Yield and Quality. Food Products Press, The Haworth Press, Inc., New York, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cabrera-Bosquet, L., Molero, G., Bort, J., Nogués, S., Araus, J.L. 2007. The combined effect of constant water deficit and nitrogen supply on WUE, NUE and Δ 13C in durum wheat potted plants. Ann. Appl. Biol. 151:277–289.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cabrera-Bosquet, L., Molero, G., Nogués, S., Araus, J.L. 2009. Water and nitrogen conditions affect the relationships of D 13C and D 18O with gas exchange and growth in durum wheat. J. Exp. Bot. 60:1633–1644.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Casadesús, J., Tambussi, E., Royo, C., Araus, J.L. 2000. Growth assessment of individual plants by an adapted remote sensing technique. In: Royo, C., Nachit, M.M., Di Fonzo, N., Araus, J.L. (eds), Durum Wheat Improvement in the Mediterranean Region: New Challenges. CIHEAM-IAMZ, Zaragoza, pp. 129–132.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chen, D., Brutsaert, W. 1998. Satellite-sensed distribution and spatial patterns of vegetation parameters over a tallgrass prairie. J. Atm. Sci. 55:1225–1238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Filella, I., Serrano, L., Serra, J., Peñuelas, J. 1995. Evaluating wheat nitrogen status with canopy reflectance indices and discriminant analysis. Crop Sci. 35:1400–1405.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gamon, J.A., Field, C.B., Goulden, M.L., Griffin, K.L., Hartley, A.E., Joel, G., Penuelas, J., Valentini, R. 1995. Relationships between NDVI, canopy structure, and photosynthesis in three Californian vegetation types. Ecol. Applic. 5:28–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoagland, D.R., Arnon, D.I. 1950. The water-culture method for growing plants without soil. California Agricultural Experiment Station Circular 347:1–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jamieson, P.D., Porter, J.R. Wilson, D.R. 1991. A test of the computer simulation model ARC-WHEAT1 on wheat crops grown in New Zealand. Field Crops Res. 27:337–350.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Large, E.C. 1954. Growth stages in cereals. Plant Pathol. 3:128–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, F., Gnyp, M.L., Jia, L., Miao, Y., Yu, Z., Koppe, W., Bareth, G., Cen, X., Zhang, F. 2008. Estimating N status of winter wheat using a handheld spectrometer in the North China Plain. Field Crops Res. 106:77–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martí J., Bort J., Slafer G.A., Araus J.L. 2007. Can wheat yield be assessed by early measurements of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index? Annals of Appl. Biol. 150:253–257.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Richards, R.A. 2002. Seedling vigour in wheat — sources of variation for genetic and agronomic improvement. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 53:41–50.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rouse, J.W., Haas, R.H., Schell, J.A., Deering, D.W. 1973. Monitoring vegetation systems in the great plains with ERTS. In: Third ERTS Symposium, NASA SP-351. NASA, Washington, D.C., USA, Vol. 1, pp. 309–317.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tremblay, N., Wang, Z., Ma, B.L., Belec, C., Vigneault, P. 2009. A comparison of crop data measured by two comercial sensors for variable-rate nitrogen application. Precision Agric. 10:145–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Verhulst, N., Govaerts, B. 2010. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) GreenSeeker™ Handheld Sensor: Toward the Integrated Evaluation of Crop Management. Part A: Concepts and Case Studies. CIMMYT, Mexico D.F.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. L. Araus.

Rights and permissions

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cabrera-Bosquet, L., Molero, G., Stellacci, A.M. et al. NDVI as a potential tool for predicting biomass, plant nitrogen content and growth in wheat genotypes subjected to different water and nitrogen conditions. CEREAL RESEARCH COMMUNICATIONS 39, 147–159 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • spectroradiometer
  • NDVI
  • active sensors
  • biomass
  • nitrogen content
  • green area
  • wheat