The 4-dimensional plant: effects of wind- induced canopy movement on light fluctuations and photosynthesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Alexandra J. Burgess
  • Renate Retkute
  • Simon P. Preston
  • Michael P. Pound
  • Tony P Pridmore
  • Erik H. Murchie


Physical perturbation of a plant canopy brought about by wind is a ubiquitous phenomenon and yet its biological importance has often been overlooked. This is partly due to the complexity of the issue at hand: wind-induced movement (or mechanical excitation) is a stochastic process which is difficult to measure and quantify; plant motion is dependent upon canopy architectural features which, until recently, were difficult to accurately represent and model in 3-dimensions; light patterning throughout a canopy is difficult to compute at high-resolutions, especially when confounded by other environmental variables. Recent studies have reinforced the expectation that canopy architecture is a strong determinant of productivity and yield; however, links between the architectural properties of the plant and its mechanical properties, particularly its response to wind, are relatively unknown. As a result, biologically relevant data relating canopy architecture, light- dynamics, and short-scale photosynthetic responses in the canopy setting are scarce. Here, we hypothesize that wind-induced movement will have large consequences for the photosynthetic productivity of our crops due to its influence on light patterning. To address this issue, in this study we combined high resolution 3D reconstructions of a plant canopy with a simple representation of canopy perturbation as a result of wind using solid body rotation in order to explore the potential effects on light patterning, interception, and photosynthetic productivity. We looked at two different scenarios: firstly a constant distortion where a rice canopy was subject to a permanent distortion throughout the whole day; and secondly, a dynamic distortion, where the canopy was distorted in incremental steps between two extremes at set time points in the day. We find that mechanical canopy excitation substantially alters light dynamics; light distribution and modeled canopy carbon gain. We then discuss methods required for accurate modeling of mechanical canopy excitation (here coined the 4-dimensional plant) and some associated biological and applied implications of such techniques. We hypothesize that biomechanical plant properties are a specific adaptation to achieve wind-induced photosynthetic enhancement and we outline how traits facilitating canopy excitation could be used as a route for improving crop yield.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Article number1392
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Early online date21 Sep 2016
StatePublished - 2016