Use of thermal imaging and the photochemical reflectance index (PRI) to detect wheat response to elevated CO2 and drought

Gabriel Mulero, Duo Jiang, David J. Bonfil, David Helman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The spectral-based photochemical reflectance index (PRI) and leaf surface temperature (Tleaf) derived from thermal imaging are two indicative metrics of plant functioning. The relationship of PRI with radiation-use efficiency (RUE) and Tleaf with leaf transpiration could be leveraged to monitor crop photosynthesis and water use from space. Yet, it is unclear how such relationships will change under future high carbon dioxide concentrations ([CO2]) and drought. Here we established an [CO2] enrichment experiment in which three wheat genotypes were grown at ambient (400 ppm) and elevated (550 ppm) [CO2] and exposed to well-watered and drought conditions in two glasshouse rooms in two replicates. Leaf transpiration (Tr) and latent heat flux (LE) were derived to assess evaporative cooling, and RUE was calculated from assimilation and radiation measurements on several dates along the season. Simultaneous hyperspectral and thermal images were taken at (Formula presented.) 1.5 m from the plants to derive PRI and the temperature difference between the leaf and its surrounding air ((Formula presented.) Tleaf−air). We found significant PRI and RUE and (Formula presented.) Tleaf−air and Tr correlations, with no significant differences among the genotypes. A PRI–RUE decoupling was observed under drought at ambient [CO2] but not at elevated [CO2], likely due to changes in photorespiration. For a LE range of 350 W m–2, the ΔTleaf−air range was (Formula presented.) 10°C at ambient [CO2] and only (Formula presented.) 4°C at elevated [CO2]. Thicker leaves in plants grown at elevated [CO2] suggest higher leaf water content and consequently more efficient thermoregulation at high [CO2] conditions. In general, Tleaf was maintained closer to the ambient temperature at elevated [CO2], even under drought. PRI, RUE, ΔTleaf−air, and Tr decreased linearly with canopy depth, displaying a single PRI-RUE and ΔTleaf−air Tr model through the canopy layers. Our study shows the utility of these sensing metrics in detecting wheat responses to future environmental changes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)76-92
Number of pages17
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Plant, Cell & Environment published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • climate impact
  • leaf temperature
  • radiation-use efficiency (RUE)
  • remote sensing


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