Friday, June 1, 2012

Phenology and sensitivity to climate

One of the strongest separations of species in grasslands is their phenology. Most guide books separate grasses and forbs, forbs by flowering color, and then timing of flowering. From a global change perspective, phenologies become important in understanding how climate will alter ecosystem function. Early-flowering species appear to respond more to variation in climate than later-flowering species.

The analyses of these patterns are still pretty basic. One question that struck me is whether early-flowering species are more responsive to variation in climate, or just have a lower temperature threshold for responding.

The first step in partitioning this is to begin to quantify these patterns and compare. On a preliminary basis, I used the Gates' first flowering data that was collected in the 1930's-1950's. I then adapted the critical climate period approach to examine the climate correlates with phenology. In short the technique allows testing whether temperatures over different windows before the event each year are the best predictors across years of the timing of the event. For example, I could test whether the first flowering date is best predicted by temperatures 10 days preceding flowering, 15 days, 20 days...etc.

From a predictive standpoint, the approach sees to work pretty well. For example, Catalpa flowering was best predicted by a 40-d window of temperature that averaged 21.9°C. 10-days after this window, it flowered. Outside of one year, flowering for catalpa can be predicted pretty well. 

When I do this for a handful of species (grasses, forbs, and trees), a couple of patterns emerge.

First, species that flower later in the growing season (day of year = DOY) have higher temperature requirements that must be met. Early-season species need periods with daily maximum temperatures to average 13°C, while later species (like Catalpa) require periods over 20°C. [red dots are trees].

Second, species that flower earlier integrate over similar periods of time as late-flowering species. In general, about 45 days.

In general, I think the relative critical climate period technique holds potential for quantifying differences in climate sensitivity for phenological events. The interesting part of this work lies in relating these patterns back to the ecology of the species more than anything. For example, what is it about a species that lets it respond to climate so fast? I would guess species like dandelions (Taraxacum) that sit in rosettes have few developmental barriers to flowering. Primordia are there waiting. Other, more determinate species, need to produce a series of leaves before they initiate flowering.

No comments:

Post a Comment