06 June 2019
The dynamics of the Green Leaf Area Index (GLAI) is of great interest for numerous applications such as yield prediction and plant breeding. We present a high-throughput model-assisted method for characterizing GLAI dynamics in maize ( Zea mays subsp. mays) using multispectral imagery acquired from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Two trials were conducted with a high diversity panel of 400 lines under well-watered and water-deficient treatments in 2016 and 2017. For each UAV flight, we first derived GLAI estimates from empirical relationships between the multispectral reflectance and ground level measurements of GLAI achieved over a small sample of microplots. We then fitted a simple but physiologically sound GLAI dynamics model over the GLAI values estimated previously. Results show that GLAI dynamics was estimated accurately throughout the cycle (R 2 > 0.9). Two parameters of the model, biggest leaf area and leaf longevity, were also estimated successfully. We showed that GLAI dynamics and the parameters of the fitted model are highly heritable (0.65 ≤ H 2 ≤ 0.98), responsive to environmental conditions, and linked to yield and drought tolerance. This method, combining growth modeling, UAV imagery and simple non-destructive field measurements, provides new high-throughput tools for understanding the adaptation of GLAI dynamics and its interaction with the environment. GLAI dynamics is also a promising trait for crop breeding, and paves the way for future genetic studies.