New method: Chemical traits of single leaves using near‐infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS)

Published on: 26. October 2020

Measures of plant chemical traits are often achieved by merging several leaves, masking potential foliar variation within and among plant individuals. In a new study, COAT researchers developed a new application of Near-infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) methodology that provides measures of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and silicon from single, whole leaves down to the size of just 4 mm.

New method: Chemical traits of single leaves using near‐infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS)


The importance of accounting for both inter- and intra-specific variation in plant chemical traits in order to understand ecosystem processes and trophic interactions has been repeatedly emphasized.

COAT Researcher Bråthen and colleagues have previously developed NIRS calibration models to predict carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and silicon contents in merged, milled, and tableted leaves of Arctic-alpine plants (Smis et al., 2014; Murguzur et al., 2019).

Here, in a new study involving Petit Bon and colleagues, these Arctic-alpine NIRS calibration models have been successfully applied to predict chemical contents of single, full leaves, upon the usage of element-specific ‘correction factors’. Such extensions were developed by using leaves collected in different biogeographic regions and habitat-types, belonging to different growth forms and species, and encompassing several phenological stages.

The methodological extension provided here may help us uncover the still unexplored world of inter- and intra-individual (i.e. variation between e.g. leaves belonging to the same plant individual) variability in foliar chemical composition. Moreover, since a single leaf is enough, this new time-efficient application can substantially reduce sampling impacts on vegetation when working in long-term experimental or monitoring plots.


Full paper


Further readings:

 Using NIRS to study plant-herbivore interactions

Previous NIRS papers:

Towards a global arctic-alpine model for Near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) predictions of foliar nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon content (Murguzur et al., 2019)

Determination of plant silicon content with near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (Smis et al., 2014)