Spectral vegetation indices as the indicator of canopy photosynthetic productivity in a deciduous broadleaf forest

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Understanding of the ecophysiological dynamics of forest canopy photosynthesis and its spatial and temporal scaling is crucial for revealing ecological response to climate change. Combined observations and analyses of plant ecophysiology and optical remote sensing would enable us to achieve these studies. In order to examine the utility of spectral vegetation indices (VIs) for assessing ecosystem-level photosynthesis, we investigated the relationships between canopy-scale photosynthetic productivity and canopy spectral reflectance over seasons for 5 years in a cool, temperate deciduous broadleaf forest at ‘Takayama’ super site in central Japan.


Daily photosynthetic capacity was assessed by in situ canopy leaf area index (LAI), (LAI × Vcmax [single-leaf photosynthetic capacity]), and the daily maximum rate of gross primary production (GPPmax) was estimated by an ecosystem carbon cycle model. We examined five VIs: normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), enhanced vegetation index (EVI), green–red vegetation index (GRVI), chlorophyll index (CI) and canopy chlorophyll index (CCI), which were obtained by the in situ measurements of canopy spectral reflectance.

Important Findings

Our in situ observation of leaf and canopy characteristics, which were analyzed by an ecosystem carbon cycling model, revealed that their phenological changes are responsible for seasonal and interannual variations in canopy photosynthesis. Significant correlations were found between the five VIs and canopy photosynthetic capacity over the seasons and years; four of the VIs showed hysteresis-type relationships and only CCI showed rather linear relationship. Among the VIs examined, we applied EVI–GPPmax relationship to EVI data obtained by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer to estimate the temporal and spatial variation in GPPmax over central Japan. Our findings would improve the accuracy of satellite-based estimate of forest photosynthetic productivity in fine spatial and temporal resolutions, which are necessary for detecting any response of terrestrial ecosystem to meteorological fluctuations.

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