Associations of leaf spectra with genetic and phylogenetic variation in oaks: Prospects for remote detection of biodiversity

Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Jose Eduardo Meireles, John J. Couture, Matthew A. Kaproth, Clayton C. Kingdon, Aditya Singh, Shawn P. Serbin, Alyson Center, Esau Zuniga, George Pilz, Philip A. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Species and phylogenetic lineages have evolved to differ in the way that they acquire and deploy resources, with consequences for their physiological, chemical and structural attributes, many of which can be detected using spectral reflectance form leaves. Recent technological advances for assessing optical properties of plants offer opportunities to detect functional traits of organisms and differentiate levels of biological organization across the tree of life. Here, we connect leaf-level full range spectral data (400-2400 nm) of leaves to the hierarchical organization of plant diversity within the oak genus (Quercus) using field and greenhouse experiments in which environmental factors and plant age are controlled. We show that spectral data significantly differentiate populations within a species and that spectral similarity is significantly associated with phylogenetic similarity among species. We further show that hyperspectral information allows more accurate classification of taxa than spectrally-derived traits, which by definition are of lower dimensionality. Finally, model accuracy increases at higher levels in the hierarchical organization of plant diversity, such that we are able to better distinguish clades than species or populations. This pattern supports an evolutionary explanation for the degree of optical differentiation among plants and demonstrates potential for remote detection of genetic and phylogenetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number221
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the authors.


  • Evolution
  • Genetic variation
  • Hierarchical organization of plant diversity
  • Hyperspectral data
  • Leaf functional traits
  • Optical classification
  • PLS-DA
  • Phylogenetic signal
  • Populations
  • Tree of life


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