Application of remote sensing technology to estimate productivity and assess phylogenetic heritability

C. Lane Scher*, Nisi Karimi, Mary-Claire Glasenhardt, Ashley Tuffin, Charles H. Cannon, Bryant C. Scharenbroch, Andrew L. Hipp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Measuring plant productivity is critical to understanding complex community interactions. Many traditional methods for estimating productivity, such as direct measurements of biomass and cover, are resource intensive, and remote sensing techniques are emerging as viable alternatives.

We explore drone-based remote sensing tools to estimate productivity in a tallgrass prairie restoration experiment and evaluate their ability to predict direct measures of productivity. We apply these various productivity measures to trace the evolution of plant productivity and the traits underlying it.

The correlation between remote sensing data and direct measurements of productivity varies depending on vegetation diversity, but the volume of vegetation estimated from drone-based photogrammetry is among the best predictors of biomass and cover regardless of community composition. The commonly used normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) is a less accurate predictor of biomass and cover than other equally accessible vegetation indices. We found that the traits most strongly correlated with productivity have lower phylogenetic signal, reflecting the fact that high productivity is convergent across the phylogeny of prairie species. This history of trait convergence connects phylogenetic diversity to plant community assembly and succession.

Our study demonstrates (1) the importance of considering phylogenetic diversity when setting management goals in a threatened North American grassland ecosystem and (2) the utility of remote sensing as a complement to ground measurements of grassland productivity for both applied and fundamental questions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11401
JournalApplications in Plant Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPrint publication - 29 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • biomass
  • phylogeny
  • phylogenetic diversity
  • prairie
  • productivity
  • remote sensing


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