Spectroscopic determination of leaf traits using infrared spectra

Maria F. Buitrago*, Thomas A. Groen, Christoph A. Hecker, Andrew K. Skidmore

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Leaf traits characterise and differentiate single species but can also be used for monitoring vegetation structure and function. Conventional methods to measure leaf traits, especially at the molecular level (e.g. water, lignin and cellulose content), are expensive and time-consuming. Spectroscopic methods to estimate leaf traits can provide an alternative approach. In this study, we investigated high spectral resolution (6612 bands) emissivity measurements from the short to the long wave infrared (1.4-16.0 μm) of leaves from 19 different plant species ranging from herbaceous to woody, and from temperate to tropical types. At the same time, we measured 14 leaf traits to characterise a leaf, including chemical (e.g., leaf water content, nitrogen, cellulose) and physical features (e.g., leaf area and leaf thickness). We fitted partial least squares regression (PLSR) models across the SWIR, MWIR and LWIR for each leaf trait. Then, reduced models (PLSRred) were derived by iteratively reducing the number of bands in the model (using a modified Jackknife resampling method with a Martens and Martens uncertainty test) down to a few bands (4–10 bands) that contribute the most to the variation of the trait. Most leaf traits could be determined from infrared data with a moderate accuracy (65 < Rcv2 < 77% for observed versus predicted plots) based on PLSRred models, while the accuracy using the whole infrared range (6612 bands) presented higher accuracies, 74 < Rcv2 < 90%. Using the full SWIR range (1.4–2.5 μm) shows similarly high accuracies compared to the whole infrared. Leaf thickness, leaf water content, cellulose, lignin and stomata density are the traits that could be estimated most accurately from infrared data (with Rcv2 above 0.80 for the full range models). Leaf thickness, cellulose and lignin were predicted with reasonable accuracy from a combination of single infrared bands. Nevertheless, for all leaf traits, a combination of a few bands yields moderate to accurate estimations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)237-250
    Number of pages14
    JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


    • Infrared spectra
    • Leaf spectra
    • Leaf traits
    • Leaf water content
    • Lignin
    • Spectroscopy

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