Land Surface Phenology in the Tropics: The Role of Climate and Topography in a Snow-Free Mountain


Streher AS, Sobreiro JFF, Morellato LPC & Silva TSF (2017) Land Surface Phenology in the Tropics: The Role of Climate and Topography in a Snow-Free Mountain. Ecosystems, 20 (8), pp. 1436-1453.

Leaf phenology represents a major temporal component of ecosystem functioning, and understanding the drivers of seasonal variation in phenology is essential to understand plant responses to climate change. We assessed the patterns and drivers of land surface phenology, a proxy for leafing phenology, for the meridional Espinhaço Range, a South American tropical mountain comprising a mosaic of savannas, dry woodlands, montane vegetation and moist forests. We used a 14-year time series of MODIS/NDVI satellite images, acquired between 2001 and 2015, and extracted phenological indicators using the TIMESAT algorithm. We obtained precipitation data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, land surface temperature from the MODIS MOD11A2 product, and cloud cover frequency from the MODIS MOD09GA product. We also calculated the topographic wetness index and simulated clear-sky radiation budgets based on the SRTM elevation model. The relationship between phenology and environmental drivers was assessed using general linear models. Temporal displacement in the start date of the annual growth season was more evident than variations in season length among vegetation types, indicating a possible temporal separation in the use of resources. Season length was inversely proportional to elevation, decreasing 1.58 days per 100 m. Green-up and senescence rates were faster where annual temperature amplitude was higher. We found that water and light availability, modulated by topography, are the most likely drivers of land surface phenology in the region, determining the start, end and length of the growing season. Temperature had an important role in determining the rates of leaf development and the strength of vegetation seasonality, suggesting that tropical vegetation is also sensitive to latitudinal temperature changes, regardless of the elevational gradient. Our work improves the current understanding of phenological strategies in the seasonal tropics and emphasizes the importance of topography in shaping light and water availability for leaf development in snow-free mountains.

land surface phenology; seasonal environments; topoclimate; tropical mountain; environmental drivers; phenological indicators

Ecosystems: Volume 20, Issue 8

Publication date31/12/2017
Publication date online06/03/2017
Date accepted by journal16/01/2017