Canopy spectral reflectance detects oak wilt at the landscape scale using phylogenetic discrimination

Gerard Sapes, Cathleen Lapadat, Anna K. Schweiger, Jennifer Juzwik, Rebecca Montgomery, Hamed Gholizadeh, Philip A. Townsend, John A. Gamon, Jeannine Cavender-Bares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The oak wilt disease caused by the invasive fungal pathogen Bretziella fagacearum is one of the greatest threats to oak-dominated forests across the Eastern United States. Accurate detection and monitoring over large areas are necessary for management activities to effectively mitigate and prevent the spread of oak wilt. Canopy spectral reflectance contains both phylogenetic and physiological information across the visible near-infrared (VNIR) and short-wave infrared (SWIR) ranges that can be used to identify diseased red oaks. We develop partial least square discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) models using airborne hyperspectral reflectance to detect diseased canopies and assess the importance of VNIR, SWIR, phylogeny, and physiology for oak wilt detection. We achieve high accuracy through a three-step phylogenetic process in which we first distinguish oaks from other species (90% accuracy), then red oaks from white oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) (93% accuracy), and, lastly, infected from non-infected trees (80% accuracy). Including SWIR wavelengths increased model accuracy by ca. 20% relative to models based on VIS-NIR wavelengths alone; using a phylogenetic approach also increased model accuracy by ca. 20% over a single-step classification. SWIR wavelengths include spectral information important in differentiating red oaks from other species and in distinguishing diseased red oaks from healthy red oaks. We determined the most important wavelengths to identify oak species, red oaks, and diseased red oaks. We also demonstrated that several multispectral indices associated with physiological decline can detect differences between healthy and diseased trees. The wavelengths in these indices also tended to be among the most important wavelengths for disease detection within PLS-DA models, indicating a convergence of the methods. Indices were most significant for detecting oak wilt during late August, especially those associated with canopy photosynthetic activity and water status. Our study suggests that coupling phylogenetics, physiology, and canopy spectral reflectance provides an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach that enables detection of forest diseases at large scales. These results have potential for direct application by forest managers for detection to initiate actions to mitigate the disease and prevent pathogen spread.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112961
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Disease response
  • Oak wilt
  • Photosynthetic decline
  • Phylogenetic classification
  • Physiology
  • Remote sensing
  • Spectral reflectance
  • Water content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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