The bacterium Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) is a plant pathogen that can block the flow of water and nutrients through the xylem. Xf symptoms may be confounded with generic water stress responses. Here, we assessed changes in biochemical, biophysical and photosynthetic traits, inferred using biophysical models, in Xf-affected almond orchards under rainfed and irrigated conditions on the Island of Majorca (Balearic Islands, Spain).
Recent research has demonstrated the early detection of Xf-infections by monitoring spectral changes associated with pigments, canopy structural traits, fluorescence emission and transpiration. Nevertheless, there is still a need to make further progress in monitoring physiological processes (e.g., photosynthesis rate) to be able to efficiently detect when Xf-infection causes subtle spectral changes in photosynthesis. This paper explores the ability of parsimonious machine learning (ML) algorithms to detect Xf-infected trees operationally, when considering a proxy of photosynthetic capacity, namely the maximum carboxylation rate (Vcmax), along with carbon-based constituents (CBC, including lignin), and leaf biochemical traits and tree-crown temperature (Tc) as an indicator of transpiration rates. The ML framework proposed here reduced the uncertainties associated with the extraction of reflectance spectra and temperature from individual tree crowns using high-resolution hyperspectral and thermal images.
We showed that the relative importance of Vcmax and leaf biochemical constituents (e.g., CBC) in the ML model for the detection of Xf at early stages of development were intrinsically associated with the water and nutritional conditions of almond trees. Overall, the functional traits that were most consistently altered by Xf-infection were Vcmax, pigments, CBC, and Tc, and, particularly in rainfed-trees, anthocyanins, and Tc. The parsimonious ML model for Xf detection yielded accuracies exceeding 90% (kappa = 0.80).
This study brings progress in the development of an operational ML framework for the detection of Xf outbreaks based on plant traits related to photosynthetic capacity, plant biochemistry and structural decay parameters.