Remote sensing tools for monitoring grassland plant leaf traits and ecosystem functioning along an altitudinal gradient

Host Institute
Fondazione Edmund Mach
Host Country


Ecosystem functional properties strongly influence ecosystem processes, and their spatial and temporal characterization is rather challenging. Plant leaf traits are able to provide crucial information towards the understanding of the ecosystem functional properties and the mechanisms underlying the provision of ecosystem services.
Within the same functional type, extreme differences can be observed in plant traits (such as Leaf Area Index, leaf pigment content, leaf water and nitrogen content, green ratio).
Plant leaf traits in different grassland associations vary in response to environmental, anthropogenic and climatic factors. In mountain environments, the compression of the climatic life zones mostly due to altitudinal variations leads to an extreme spatial variability of plant traits and ecosystem functional properties.
Hyperspectral remote sensing can provide useful data for plant leaf traits characterisation and mapping, providing valuable inputs to the ecosystem modelling community.
The variability of plant leaf traits within the grassland functional type and their ability to provide information on both the ecosystem functional properties and the ecosystem services will be assessed along an altitudinal gradient, ranging from the low altitude temperate meadows up to the subalpine grasslands and alpine tundra ecosystems.
Radiative Transfer Model inversion will allow grassland plant leaf traits estimation (LAI, canopy height, leaf nitrogen and water content) within different grassland canopies. The advantages of integrating LiDAR and hyperspectral data will be investigated, and the impact of canopy structure (spatial distribution of photosynthetic and non photosynthetic canopy elements) on the reflectance response and on the models’ ability to estimate plant leaf traits and functional properties.


CSIC (Spain): timing: M12, length: 2 months. Purpose: laser scanning techniques for structural PTs
TRILOGIS (Italy): timing: M20, length: 8 months: Purpose field spectral data processing, imagery processing, visualization tools.


The activity will be supervised by Dr. Damiano Gianelle.