Understanding the vertical pattern of leaf traits across plant canopies provide critical information on plant physiology, ecosystem functioning and structure and vegetation response to climate change. However, the impact of vertical canopy position on leaf spectral properties and subsequently leaf traits across the entire spectrum for multiple species is poorly understood. In this study, we examined the ability of leaf optical properties to track variability in leaf traits across the vertical canopy profile using Partial Least Square Discriminatory Analysis (PLS-DA). Leaf spectral measurements together with leaf traits (nitrogen, carbon, chlorophyll, equivalent water thickness and specific leaf area) were studied at three vertical canopy positions along the plant stem: lower, middle and upper. We observed that foliar nitrogen (N), chlorophyll (Cab
), carbon (C), and equivalent water thickness (EWT) were higher in the upper canopy leaves compared with lower shaded leaves, while specific leaf area (SLA) increased from upper to lower canopy leaves. We found that leaf spectral reflectance significantly (P
≤ 0.05) shifted to longer wavelengths in the ‘red edge’ spectrum (685–701 nm) in the order of lower > middle > upper for the pooled dataset. We report that spectral bands that are influential in the discrimination of leaf samples into the three groups of canopy position, based on the PLS-DA variable importance projection (VIP) score, match with wavelength regions of foliar traits observed to vary across the canopy vertical profile. This observation demonstrated that both leaf traits and leaf reflectance co-vary across the vertical canopy profile in multiple species. We conclude that canopy vertical position has a significant impact on leaf spectral properties of an individual plant’s traits, and this finding holds for multiple species. These findings have important implications on field sampling protocols, upscaling leaf traits to canopy level, canopy reflectance modelling, and subsequent leaf trait retrieval, especially for studies that aimed to integrate hyperspectral measurements and LiDAR data.
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