Thermal remote sensing for plant ecology from leaf to globe Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Surface temperatures are mechanistically linked to vegetation biophysical and physiological processes. Although remote sensing in the thermal infrared (TIR) domain can offer novel insights into the impacts of changing surface temperatures on vegetation, the transformative potential of remote sensing for plant ecology has not yet been realized. Remotely sensed surface temperatures can be used to derive stomatal behaviour and identify stressful environmental conditions in nearreal time. Plant species, traits and structural characteristics can be evaluated with high spectral resolution TIR emissivity. Beyond canopy scales, thermal remote sensing can enhance the inferences obtained from manipulative experiments and empirical evidence, providing unique insight into shifts in species ranges and phenology with changing climate conditions. Scaling leaf traits, canopy structure and regional patterns require an integrated understanding of both process and technology. Theory linking surface temperatures to vegetation dynamics is summarized from an energy balance perspective. We outline scaling considerations including the impacts of morphology on leaf energy balance, canopy structure influences on convective heat exchange and potential confounding impacts of nonvegetated surfaces. Synthesis. We introduce a unifying framework to link leaf to globe through thermal remote sensing. Recent and emerging advances in sensors, data availability and analytics, together with synergies between TIR remote sensing and other data sources, present a timely opportunity for ecologists to advance our understanding of plant physiology, ecology and biogeography with thermal remote sensing.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 53.758

author list (cited authors)

  • Farella, M. M., Fisher, J. B., Jiao, W., Key, K. B., & Barnes, M. L.

citation count

  • 25

complete list of authors

  • Farella, Martha M||Fisher, Joshua B||Jiao, Wenzhe||Key, Kesondra B||Barnes, Mallory L

publication date

  • September 2022