Parallel adjustments in vegetation greenness and ecosystem CO2 exchange in response to drought in a Southern California chaparral ecosystem

Daniel A. Sims, Hongyan Luo, Steven Hastings, Walter C. Oechel, Abdullah F. Rahman, John A. Gamon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

198 Scopus citations


Some form of the light use efficiency (LUE) model is used in most models of ecosystem carbon exchange based on remote sensing. The strong relationship between the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and light absorbed by green vegetation make models based on LUE attractive in the remote sensing context. However, estimation of LUE has proven problematic since it varies with vegetation type and environmental conditions. Here we propose that LUE may in fact be correlated with vegetation greenness (measured either as NDVI at constant solar elevation angle, or a red edge chlorophyll index), making separate estimates of LUE unnecessary, at least for some vegetation types. To test this, we installed an automated tram system for measurement of spectral reflectance in the footprint of an eddy covariance flux system in the Southern California chaparral. This allowed us to match the spatial and temporal scales of the reflectance and flux measurements and thus to make direct comparisons over time scales ranging from minutes to years. The 3-year period of this study included both "normal" precipitation years and an extreme drought in 2002. In this sparse chaparral vegetation, diurnal and seasonal changes in solar angle resulted in large variation in NDVI independent of the actual quantity of green vegetation. In fact, one would come to entirely different conclusions about seasonal changes in vegetation greenness depending on whether NDVI at noon or NDVI at constant solar elevation angle were used. Although chaparral vegetation is generally considered "evergreen", we found that the majority of the shrubs were actually semi-deciduous, leading to large seasonal changes in NDVI at constant solar elevation angle. LUE was correlated with both greenness indices at the seasonal timescale across all years. In contrast, the relationship between LUE and PRI was inconsistent. PRI was well correlated with LUE during the "normal" years but this relationship changed dramatically during the extreme drought. Contrary to expectations, none of the spectral reflectance indices showed consistent relationships with CO2 flux or LUE over the diurnal time-course, possibly because of confounding effects of sun angle and stand structure on reflectance. These results suggest that greenness indices can be used to directly estimate CO2 exchange at weekly timescales in this chaparral ecosystem, even in the face of changes in LUE. Greenness indices are unlikely to be as good predictors of CO2 exchange in dense evergreen vegetation as they were in the sparse, semi-deciduous chaparral. However, since relatively few ecosystems are entirely evergreen at large spatial scales or over long time spans due to disturbance, these relationships need to be examined across a wider range of vegetation types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-303
Number of pages15
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 15 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • CCI
  • Chaparral
  • Chlorophyll
  • Diurnal
  • Ecosystem CO flux
  • Eddy covariance
  • Hyperspectral
  • Light use efficiency
  • NDV
  • Photosynthesis
  • PRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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