Predicting macronutrient concentrations from loblolly pine leaf reflectance across local and regional scales

Given the economic importance of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) in the southeastern US, there is a need to establish efficient methods of detecting potential nutrient deficiencies that may limit productivity. This study evaluated the use of remote sensing for macronutrient assessment in loblolly pine. Reflectance-based models were developed at two spatial scales: (1) a natural nutrient gradient across the species’ range, and (2) localized fertilization and genotype treatments in North Carolina and Virginia. Fascicles were collected regionally from 237 samples of 3 flushes at 18 sites, and locally from 72 trees with 2 fertilization treatments and 6 genotypes. Sample spectral reflectance was calculated using a spectroradiometer, and nutrient concentrations were measured with dry combustion and wet chemical digestion. Results were analyzed statistically using nutrient correlations with reflectance and common vegetation indices, and partial least squares regression (PLSR). PLSR performed well at the regional scale, with R2 values for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium of 0.81, 0.70, 0.68, 0.42, and 0.51, respectively. No model successfully predicted nutrients at local sites for any treatment or canopy stratum. This discrepancy implies that a large nutrient range and/or spatial scale may be necessary to model loblolly pine nutrients with spectral reflectance.

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