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Spectrometric prediction of secondary metabolites and nitrogen in fresh Eucalyptus foliage: towards remote sensing of the nutritional quality of foliage for leaf-eating marsupials

M.J. H. Ebbers, I. R. Wallis, S. Dury, R. Floyd and W. J. Foley

School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.
School of Forestry, Australian National University Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.
CSIRO Division of Entomology, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia.


Abstract. Near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy provides an excellent means of assessing the chemical composition of Eucalyptus foliage but the standard methods of drying and grinding the samples limit the speed at which spectra can be collected and thus are unsuitable for measurements in the field. We investigated whether reliable spectra could be collected from whole fresh and dry leaves of E. melliodora and E. globulus and whether we could predict the concentration of total nitrogen, the volatile terpene, 1,8 cineole and the phenolic antifeedant compound, sideroxylonal A, from these spectra. Water absorbance peaks did not obscure the absorption spectrum of 1,8 cineole and so cineole concentration was readily predicted from spectra of whole, fresh E. melliodora leaves. Similarly, both total nitrogen and sideroxylonal A could be predicted from spectra of fresh leaf in E. melliodora even though water absorption obscured some spectral features. The predictions of cineole and total nitrogen concentration in E. globulus were not as good as those in E. melliodora, possibly due to interference from waxes on the leaf surface of E. globulus juvenile foliage. Overall, these results suggest that certain important ecological attributes of Eucalyptus foliage can be predicted from spectra of whole fresh leaves. Thus, it is feasible to investigate the collection of spectra by portable or airborne spectrophotometry.