Development and validation of methodology for estimating potato canopy structure for field crop phenotyping and improved breeding

Filipe de Jesus Colwell, Jock Souter, Glenn Bryan, Lindsey Compton, Neil Boonham, Ankush Prashar

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Traditional phenotyping techniques have long been a bottleneck in breeding programs and genotype- phenotype association studies in potato, as these methods are labor-intensive and time consuming. In addition, depending on the trait measured and metric adopted, they suffer from varying degrees of user bias and inaccuracy, and hence these challenges have effectively prevented the execution of large-scale population-based field studies. This is true not only for commercial traits (e.g., yield, tuber size, and shape), but also for traits strongly associated with plant performance (e.g., canopy development, canopy architecture, and growth rates). This study demonstrates how the use of point cloud data obtained from low-cost UAV imaging can be used to create 3D surface models of the plant canopy, from which detailed and accurate data on plant height and its distribution, canopy ground cover and canopy volume can be obtained over the growing season. Comparison of the canopy datasets at different temporal points enabled the identification of distinct patterns of canopy development, including different patterns of growth, plant lodging, maturity and senescence. Three varieties are presented as exemplars. Variety Nadine presented the growth pattern of an early maturing variety, showing rapid initial growth followed by rapid onset of senescence and plant death. Varieties Bonnie and Bounty presented the pattern of intermediate to late maturing varieties, with Bonnie also showing early canopy lodging. The methodological approach used in this study may alleviate one of the current bottlenecks in the study of plant development, paving the way for an expansion in the scale of future genotype-phenotype association studies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number612843
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2021


  • canopy structure
  • crop growth and development
  • crop surface models
  • high throughput phenotyping
  • plant breeding
  • potato
  • unmanned aerial vehicles


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