Reliable information on soil status and crop health is crucial for detecting and mitigating disasters like pollution or minimizing impact from soil-borne diseases. While infestation with an aggressive soil pathogen can be detected via reflected light spectra, it is unknown to what extent hyperspectral reflectance could be used to detect overall changes in soil biodiversity. We tested the hypotheses that spectra can be used to 1) separate plants growing with microbial communities from different farms; 2) to separate plants growing in different microbial communities due to different land use; and 3) separate plants soils according to microbial species loss. We measured hyperspectral reflectance patterns of winter wheat plants growing in sterilized soils inoculated with microbial suspensions under controlled conditions. Microbial communities varied due to geographical distance, land use and microbial species loss caused by serial dilution. After 3 months of growth in the presence of microbes from the two different farms plant hyperspectral reflectance patterns differed significantly from each other, while within farms the effects of land use via microbes on plant reflectance spectra were weak. Species loss via dilution on the other hand affected a number of spectral indices for some of the soils. Spectral reflectance can be indicative of differences in microbial communities, with the Renormalized Difference Vegetation Index the most common responding index. Also, a positive correlation was found between the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index and the bacterial species richness, which suggests that plants perform better with higher microbial diversity. There is considerable variation between the soil origins and currently it is not possible yet to make sufficient reliable predictions about the soil microbial community based on the spectral reflectance. We conclude that measuring plant hyperspectral reflectance has potential for detecting changes in microbial communities yet due to its sensitivity high replication is necessary and a strict sampling design to exclude other ‘noise’ factors.
|Date made available||02 Jun 2016|