Restrictions on soil water supply can dramatically reduce crop yields by affecting the growth and development of plants. For this reason, screening tools that can detect crop water stress early have been long investigated, with canopy temperature (CT) being widely used for this
[...] Read more.
Restrictions on soil water supply can dramatically reduce crop yields by affecting the growth and development of plants. For this reason, screening tools that can detect crop water stress early have been long investigated, with canopy temperature (CT) being widely used for this purpose. In this study, we investigated the relationship between canopy temperature retrieved from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) based thermal imagery with soil and plant attributes, using a rainfed maize field as the area of study. The flight mission was conducted during the late vegetative stage and at solar noon, when a considerable soil water deficit was detected according to the soil water balance model used. While the images were being taken, soil sampling was conducted to determine the soil water content across the field. The sampling results demonstrated the spatial variability of soil water status, with soil volumetric water content (SVWC) presenting 10.4% of variation and values close to the permanent wilting point (PWP), reflecting CT readings that ranged from 32.8 to 40.6 °C among the sampling locations. Although CT correlated well with many of the physical attributes of soil that are related to water dynamics, the simple linear regression between CT and soil water content variables yielded coefficients of determination (R2
) = 0.42, indicating that CT alone might not be sufficient to predict soil water status. Nonetheless, when CT was combined with some soil physical attributes in a multiple linear regression, the prediction capacity was significantly increased, achieving an R2
value = 0.88. This result indicates the potential use of CT along with certain soil physical variables to predict crop water status, making it a useful tool for studies exploring the spatial variability of in-season drought stress.