What is it about?

The physiology and structure of vascular plant canopies are primarily optimized towards two functions: The absorption of solar energy using the photosynthetic machinery and the assimilation of carbon for maintenance and further growth. Despite this common goal of vascular plants, canopies can differ greatly between species or even within a species due to the requirements of abiotic and biotic environmental factors. Differences in canopy properties (e.g. leaf properties or the total amount of foliage) also affect how plant canopies reflect light. Accordingly, in this study, we assess this relationship using physically-based models that simulate radiation processes in the canopy. In doing so, we reveal how environmental factors determine those traits that in turn define the reflectance of a plant.

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Why is it important?

Assessing the interplay of environmental factors, plant traits, and canopy reflectance is important for 1) understanding how ecological processes drive plant functional diversity and 2) developing remote sensing-based monitoring approaches to map Earth´s plant functional diversity.


This study showed that traits that are relevant for canopy reflectance, are closely related to plant functioning. This opens up new possibilities to assess plant functioning. The fact that these plant traits can be assessed using detailed reflectance measurements highlights the value of upcoming hyperspectral satellite missions (e.g. EnMAP, PRISMA or HyspIRI) for assessing plant functional diversity for large spatial scales.

Dr Teja Kattenborn
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Radiative transfer modelling reveals why canopy reflectance follows function, Scientific Reports, April 2019, Springer Science + Business Media,
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-43011-1.
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