M D P I AG
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An automated method of determining tree water status would enable tree fruit growers, foresters and arborists to reduce water consumption, reduce orchard maintenance costs and improve fruit quality. Automated measurements could also be used to irrigate based on need rather than on fixed schedules. Numerous automated approaches have been studied; all are difficult to implement. Electromagnetic sensors that measure volumetric water content can be inserted in tree trunks to determine relative changes in tree water status. We performed automated measurements of dielectric permittivity using four commercially available electromagnetic sensors in fruit tree trunks over the 2016 growing season. These sensors accurately measure the ratio of air and water in soils, but tree trunks have minimal air-filled porosity. The sensors do respond, however, to bound and unbound water and the relative change in the output of the sensors thus provides an indication of this ratio. Sapwood is the hydro-dynamically responsive component of trunk anatomy and is nearest the bark. Sensor response improved when the waveguides were exposed to a greater percentage of sapwood. Irrigation-induced increases of approximately 0.5 MPa in stem water potential were associated with 0.5 unit increases in dielectric permittivity. Electromagnetic sensors respond to bound water in trees and thus have the potential to indicate tree water status, especially when the sensor rods are in contact with sapwood. Sensor modifications and/or innovative installation techniques could enable automated measurements of tree water status that could be used to precision irrigate trees.
Stott, L.V.; Black, B.; Bugbee, B. Quantifying Tree Hydration Using Electromagnetic Sensors. Horticulturae 2020, 6, 2.