Satellite based remote sensing technique as a tool for real time monitoring of leaf retention in natural rubber plantations affected by abnormal leaf fall disease
Most parts of the traditional natural rubber growing regions of India, extending from Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu in the South to Kasaragod district of Kerala in the North received excess and prolonged rains during 2013. This led to severe incidence of Abnormal Leaf Fall (ALF) disease caused by the fungus, Phytophthora sp. The present study demonstrated the first time use of satellite remote sensing technique to monitor ALF disease by estimating Leaf Area Index (LAI) in natural rubber holdings in near real time. Leaf retention was monitored in between April and December 2012 and 2013 by estimating LAI using MODIS 15A2 product covering rubber holdings spread across all districts in the traditional rubber growing region of the country that was mapped using Resourcesat LISS III 2012 and 2013 data. It was found that as the monsoon advanced, LAI decreased substantially in both years, but the reduction was much more substantial and prolonged in many districts during 2013 than 2012 reflecting increased leaf fall due to ALF disease in 2013. The decline was more pronounced in central and northern Kerala than in the South. Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu is generally known to be free from ALF disease, but there was considerable leaf loss due to ALF in June 2012 and June and July 2013 even as the monsoon was unusually severe in 2013. Weighted mean LAI during for the entire period of April to December was estimated as a weighted average of LAI and per cent of total area under rubber in each district in the study area for the two years. This was markedly less in 2013 than 2012. The implications of poor leaf retention for biomass production (net primary productivity), carbon sequestration and rubber yield are discussed.