Detecting leaf pulvinar movements on NDVI time series of desert trees: A new approach for water stress detection

Roberto O. Chávez, Jan G.P.W. Clevers, Jan Verbesselt, Paulette I. Naulin, Martin Herold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Heliotropic leaf movement or leaf 'solar tracking' occurs for a wide variety of plants, including many desert species and some crops. This has an important effect on the canopy spectral reflectance as measured from satellites. For this reason, monitoring systems based on spectral vegetation indices, such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), should account for heliotropic movements when evaluating the health condition of such species. In the hyper-arid Atacama Desert, Northern Chile, we studied seasonal and diurnal variations of MODIS and Landsat NDVI time series of plantation stands of the endemic species Prosopis tamarugo Phil., subject to different levels of groundwater depletion. As solar irradiation increased during the day and also during the summer, the paraheliotropic leaves of Tamarugo moved to an erectophile position (parallel to the sun rays) making the NDVI signal to drop. This way, Tamarugo stands with no water stress showed a positive NDVI difference between morning and midday (ΔNDVImo-mi) and between winter and summer (ΔNDVIW-S). In this paper, we showed that the ΔNDVImo-miof Tamarugo stands can be detected using MODIS Terra and Aqua images, and the ΔNDVIW-Susing Landsat or MODIS Terra images. Because pulvinar movement is triggered by changes in cell turgor, the effects of water stress caused by groundwater depletion can be assessed and monitored using ΔNDVImo-miand ΔNDVIW-S. For an 11-year time series without rainfall events, Landsat ΔNDVIW-Sof Tamarugo stands showed a positive linear relationship with cumulative groundwater depletion. We conclude that both ΔNDVImo-miand ΔNDVIW-Shave potential to detect early water stress of paraheliotropic vegetation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere106613
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - 3 Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


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