Precision nitrogen (N) management requires an accurate and timely in-season assessment of crop N status. The proximal fluorescence sensor Multiplex®
3 is a promising tool for monitoring crop N status. It performs a non-destructive estimation of plant chlorophyll, flavonol, and anthocyanin contents, which are related to plant N status. The objective of this study was to evaluate the potential of proximal fluorescence sensing for N status estimation at different growth stages for rice in cold regions. In 2012 and 2013, paddy rice field experiments with five N supply rates and two varieties were conducted in northeast China. Field samples and fluorescence data were collected in the leaf scale (LS), on-the-go (OG), and above the canopy (AC) modes using Multiplex®
3 at the panicle initiation (PI), stem elongation (SE), and heading (HE) stages. The relationships between the Multiplex indices or normalized N sufficient indices (NSI) and five N status indicators (above-ground biomass (AGB), leaf N concentration (LNC), plant N concentration (PNC), plant N uptake (PNU), and N nutrition index (NNI)) were evaluated. Results showed that Multiplex measurements taken using the OG mode were more sensitive to rice N status than those made in the other two modes in this study. Most of the measured fluorescence indices, especially the N balance index (NBI), simple fluorescence ratios (SFR), blue–green to far-red fluorescence ratio (BRR_FRF), and flavonol (FLAV) were highly sensitive to N status. Strong relationships between these fluorescence indices and N indicators, especially the LNC, PNC, and NNI were revealed, with coefficients of determination (R2
) ranging from 0.40 to 0.78. The N diagnostic results indicated that the normalized N sufficiency index based on NBI under red illumination (NBI_RNSI
) and FLAV achieved the highest diagnostic accuracy rate (90%) at the SE and HE stages, respectively, while NBI_RNSI
showed the highest diagnostic consistency across growth stages. The study concluded that the Multiplex sensor could be used to reliably estimate N nutritional status for rice in cold regions, especially for the estimation of LNC, PNC, and NNI. The normalized N sufficiency indices based on the Multiplex indices could further improve the accuracy of N nutrition diagnosis by reducing the influences of inter-annual variations and different varieties, as compared with the original Multiplex indices.
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