Detecting Plant Stress Using Thermal and Optical Imagery From an Unoccupied Aerial Vehicle

Bonny Margaret Stutsel, Kasper Johansen, Yoann Malbeteau, Matthew McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Soil and water salinization has global impact on the sustainability of agricultural production, affecting the health and condition of staple crops and reducing potential yields. Identifying or developing salt-tolerant varieties of commercial crops is a potential pathway to enhance food and water security and deliver on the global demand for an increase in food supplies. Our study focuses on a phenotyping experiment that was designed to establish the influence of salinity stress on a diversity panel of the wild tomato species, Solanum pimpinellifolium. Here, we explore how unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with both an optical and thermal infrared camera can be used to map and monitor plant temperature (Tp) changes in response to applied salinity stress. An object-based image analysis approach was developed to delineate individual tomato plants, while a green–red vegetation index derived from calibrated red, green, and blue (RGB) optical data allowed the discrimination of vegetation from the soil background. Tp was retrieved simultaneously from the co-mounted thermal camera, with Tp deviation from the ambient temperature and its change across time used as a potential indication of stress. Results showed that Tp differences between salt-treated and control plants were detectable across the five separate UAV campaigns undertaken during the field experiment. Using a simple statistical approach, we show that crop water stress index values greater than 0.36 indicated conditions of plant stress. The optimum period to collect UAV-based Tp for identifying plant stress was found between fruit formation and ripening. Preliminary results also indicate that UAV-based Tp may be used to detect plant stress before it is visually apparent, although further research with more frequent image collections and field observations is required. Our findings provide a tool to accelerate field phenotyping to identify salt-resistant germplasm and may allow farmers to alleviate yield losses through early detection of plant stress via management interventions.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
StatePublished - Oct 27 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Detecting Plant Stress Using Thermal and Optical Imagery From an Unoccupied Aerial Vehicle'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this