Disease management in agriculture often assumes that pathogens are spread homogeneously across crops. In practice, pathogens can manifest in patches. Currently, disease detection is predominantly carried out by human assessors, which can be slow and expensive. A remote sensing approach holds promise. Current satellite sensors are not suitable to spatially resolve individual plants or lack temporal resolution to monitor pathogenesis. Here, we used multispectral imaging and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to explore whether myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) could be detected on a lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) plantation. Multispectral aerial imagery was collected from fungicide treated and untreated tree canopies, the fungicide being used to control myrtle rust. Spectral vegetation indices and single spectral bands were used to train a random forest classifier. Treated and untreated trees could be classified with high accuracy (95%). Important predictors for the classifier were the near-infrared (NIR) and red edge (RE) spectral band. Taking some limitations into account, that are discussedherein, our work suggests potential for mapping myrtle rust-related symptoms from aerial multispectral images. Similar studies could focus on pinpointing disease hotspots to adjust management strategies and to feed epidemiological models.
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