UAV-based LiDAR for high-throughput determination of plant height and above‐ground biomass of the bioenergy grass arundo donax

Mauro Maesano, Sacha Khoury, Farid Nakhle, Andrea Firrincieli, Alan Gay, Flavia Tauro, Antoine Harfouche*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Replacing fossil fuels with cellulosic biofuels is a valuable component of reducing the drivers of climate change. This leads to a requirement to develop more productive bioenergy crops, such as Arundo donax with the aim of increasing above‐ground biomass (AGB). However, direct measurement of AGB is time consuming, destructive, and labor‐intensive. Phenotyping of plant height and biomass production is a bottleneck in genomics‐ and phenomics‐assisted breeding. Here, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for remote sensing equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) was tested for remote plant height and biomass determination in A. donax. Experiments were conducted on three A. donax ecotypes grown in well‐watered and moderate drought stress conditions. A novel UAV‐LiDAR data collection and processing workflow produced a dense three-dimensional (3D) point cloud for crop height estimation through a normalized digital surface model (DSM) that acts as a crop height model (CHM). Manual measurements of crop height and biomass were taken in parallel and compared to LiDAR CHM estimates. Stepwise multiple regression was used to estimate biomass. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests and pairwise comparisons were used to determine differences between ecotypes and drought stress treatments. We found a significant relationship between the sensor readings and manually measured crop height and biomass, with determination coefficients of 0.73 and 0.71 for height and biomass, respectively. Differences in crop heights were detected more precisely from LiDAR estimates than from manual measurement. Crop biomass differences were also more evident in LiDAR estimates, suggesting differences in ecotypes’ productivity and tolerance to drought. Based on these results, application of the presented UAV‐ LiDAR workflow will provide new opportunities in assessing bioenergy crop morpho‐physiological traits and in delivering improved genotypes for biorefining.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3464
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020


  • Above‐ground biomass (AGB)
  • Arundo donax
  • Bioenergy crop
  • Crop height model (CHM)
  • Field phenomics
  • LiDAR
  • Plant height
  • Remote sensing
  • UAV


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