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Comparison and extension of three methods for automated registration of multimodal plant images

Henke, Michael, Junker, Astrid, Neumann, Kerstin, Altmann, Thomas, Gladilin, Evgeny
Plant methods 2019 v.15 no.1 pp. 44
automation, chlorophyll, color, fluorescence, image analysis, lighting, mature plants, phenotype, pigmentation, shoots, water content
With the introduction of high-throughput multisensory imaging platforms, the automatization of multimodal image analysis has become the focus of quantitative plant research. Due to a number of natural and technical reasons (e.g., inhomogeneous scene illumination, shadows, and reflections), unsupervised identification of relevant plant structures (i.e., image segmentation) represents a nontrivial task that often requires extensive human-machine interaction. Registration of multimodal plant images enables the automatized segmentation of ’difficult’ image modalities such as visible light or near-infrared images using the segmentation results of image modalities that exhibit higher contrast between plant and background regions (such as fluorescent images). Furthermore, registration of different image modalities is essential for assessment of a consistent multiparametric plant phenotype, where, for example, chlorophyll and water content as well as disease- and/or stress-related pigmentation can simultaneously be studied at a local scale. To automatically register thousands of images, efficient algorithmic solutions for the unsupervised alignment of two structurally similar but, in general, nonidentical images are required. For establishment of image correspondences, different algorithmic approaches based on different image features have been proposed. The particularity of plant image analysis consists, however, of a large variability of shapes and colors of different plants measured at different developmental stages from different views. While adult plant shoots typically have a unique structure, young shoots may have a nonspecific shape that can often be hardly distinguished from the background structures. Consequently, it is not clear a priori what image features and registration techniques are suitable for the alignment of various multimodal plant images. Furthermore, dynamically measured plants may exhibit nonuniform movements that require application of nonrigid registration techniques. Here, we investigate three common techniques for registration of visible light and fluorescence images that rely on finding correspondences between (i) feature-points, (ii) frequency domain features, and (iii) image intensity information. The performance of registration methods is validated in terms of robustness and accuracy measured by a direct comparison with manually segmented images of different plants. Our experimental results show that all three techniques are sensitive to structural image distortions and require additional preprocessing steps including structural enhancement and characteristic scale selection. To overcome the limitations of conventional approaches, we develop an iterative algorithmic scheme, which allows it to perform both rigid and slightly nonrigid registration of high-throughput plant images in a fully automated manner.