The 4-dimensional plant: enhanced mechanical canopy excitation for improved crop performance

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester


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Technical Summary

Crop canopy architecture is hard to capture and quantify in the field in high resolution despite it being fundamental in determining both radiation use efficiency and final yield. One of the most important reasons is occlusion within dense canopies. At the University of Nottingham we developed, released and published accessible methods for full automated high resolution 3D canopy reconstruction using a RGB stereo approach, removing entire plants from the canopy and rapidly scanning. This was used to study key canopy light-driven processes.

The general architectural ideotype for enhanced photosynthetic performance in crops is relatively well understood, largely associated with upright leaves, but there is an understanding that dynamic photosynthetic responses are suboptimal.
Here we analyse an overlooked (but ubiquitous) event in nature - the movement of canopies in light to moderate wind. Our recent work (Burgess et al 2016, Frontiers in Plant Science, doi:10.3389/FPLS.2016.01392) used high resolution 3D reconstruction to show that gentle, non-tropic, non-fatal movement in canopies has a substantial impact on canopy photosynthesis (up to 17 %) and hence crop yield via alterations in canopy light dynamics.

In this proposal we will use new image tracking technology and high resolution 3D reconstruction (developed at Nottingham) to produce the world's first ideotype for optimised movement for enhanced photosynthesis in wheat and rice canopies. We will use tracking of plant motion to develop data-driven dynamic models of mechanically excited plants and altered canopy light distribution. In parallel we develop a mechanical model informed by plant physical and biomechanical properties. We will apply these new technologies to wheat populations growing in the field to uncover new mechanical traits that will be investigated by genome wide association studies (GWAS) and sequencing within the lifetime of the project.

Planned Impact

Please see the Impact Summary in the Nottingham application form


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Description This is a sub-project associated with grant BB/R004633/1. Theoretical studies have addressed the role of leaf motion on the impact of light on plants, specifically considering how the mechanical properties of leaves affect the manner in which they move when forced by wind. The dynamical features of this motion may impact on the manner in which plants achieve photosynthesis. Research findings, which integrate mechanical models with statistical fitting procedures, are currently being prepared for publication.
Exploitation Route The results address motion of individual leaves under environmental forcing. There is significant potential to extend the approaches developed in the proposal by others to consider motions of full plants, to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of plant mechanical properties on light dynamics in crops.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink