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Plant Methods. 2019 Feb 4;15:11. doi: 10.1186/s13007-019-0396-x. eCollection 2019.

Evaluating maize phenotype dynamics under drought stress using terrestrial lidar.

Su Y#1,2, Wu F#1,2, Ao Z3, Jin S1,2, Qin F4, Liu B1,2, Pang S1, Liu L1,2, Guo Q1,2.

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1State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100093 China.
2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100049 China.
3Guangdong Key Laboratory for Urbanization and Geo-simulation, School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, 510275 China.
4College of Biological Sciences, China Agricultural University, Beijing, 100091 China.
Contributed equally



Maize (Zea mays L.) is the third most consumed grain in the world and improving maize yield is of great importance of the world food security, especially under global climate change and more frequent severe droughts. Due to the limitation of phenotyping methods, most current studies only focused on the responses of phenotypes on certain key growth stages. Although light detection and ranging (lidar) technology showed great potential in acquiring three-dimensional (3D) vegetation information, it has been rarely used in monitoring maize phenotype dynamics at an individual plant level.


In this study, we used a terrestrial laser scanner to collect lidar data at six growth stages for 20 maize varieties under drought stress. Three drought-related phenotypes, i.e., plant height, plant area index (PAI) and projected leaf area (PLA), were calculated from the lidar point clouds at the individual plant level. The results showed that terrestrial lidar data can be used to estimate plant height, PAI and PLA at an accuracy of 96%, 70% and 92%, respectively. All three phenotypes showed a pattern of first increasing and then decreasing during the growth period. The high drought tolerance group tended to keep lower plant height and PAI without losing PLA during the tasseling stage. Moreover, the high drought tolerance group inclined to have lower plant area density in the upper canopy than the low drought tolerance group.


The results demonstrate the feasibility of using terrestrial lidar to monitor 3D maize phenotypes under drought stress in the field and may provide new insights on identifying the key phenotypes and growth stages influenced by drought stress.


Drought stress; Lidar; Maize; Phenotype

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