Forest leaf mass per area (LMA) through the eye of optical remote sensing: A review and future outlook

Tawanda Gara*, Parinaz Rahimzadeh, R. Darvishzadeh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Quantitative remote sensing of leaf traits offers an opportunity to track biodiversity changes from space. Augmenting field measurement of leaf traits with remote sensing provides a pathway for monitoring essential biodiversity variables (EBVs) over space and time. Detailed information on key leaf traits such as leaf mass per area (LMA) is critical for understanding ecosystem structure and functioning, and subsequently the provision of ecosystem services. Although studies on remote sensing of LMA and related constituents have been conducted for over three decades, a comprehensive review of remote sensing of LMA—a key driver of leaf and canopy reflectance—has been lacking. This paper reviews the current state and potential approaches, in addition to the challenges associated with LMA estimation/retrieval in forest ecosystems. The physiology and environmental factors that influence the spatial and temporal variation of LMA are presented. The scope of scaling LMA using remote sensing systems at various scales, i.e., near ground (in situ), airborne, and spaceborne platforms is reviewed and discussed. The review explores the advantages and disadvantages of LMA modelling techniques from these platforms. Finally, the research gaps and perspectives for future research are presented. Our review reveals that although progress has been made, scaling LMA to regional and global scales remains a challenge. In addition to seasonal tracking, three-dimensional modeling of LMA is still in its infancy. Over the past decade, the remote sensing scientific community has made efforts to separate LMA constituents in physical modelling at the leaf level. However, upscaling these leaf models to canopy level in forest ecosystems remains untested. We identified future opportunities involving the synergy of multiple sensors, and investigated the utility of hybrid models, particularly at the canopy and landscape levels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3352
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalRemote sensing
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021




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