Phenology of tropical forests: patterns, causes, and consequences

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Unlike the marked temperature-related periodicity of temperate forests, development tends to be continuous in aseasonal lowland tropical rain forests and becomes more episodic in response to increasing annual drought in tropical dry forests. Hence, in tropical rain forests, foliar development (production, senescence, and longevity) is largely under internal rather than environmental control. Tropical forests with marked annual dry seasons display associated seasonality of leaf production and shedding. This developmental seasonality can be explained by overlaying the influence of seasonality on trees' internally regulated development and appears to be controlled by acclimative physiological processes and not by sensitivity to photo-, thermo-periodic, or direct environmental cues. Consequences of tropical phenology stem from both the variety of leaf and species ecophysiological types common to a given moisture regime and their relative synchrony of development, and include larger diversity of ecophysiological species types in rain than dry forests; differential rates of herbivory in dry than wet seasons and for synchronous versus asynchronous leaf flushes; ecosystems with greater canopy foliar mass per hectare in rain than dry forests; and several leaf adaptations perhaps unique to tropical forests, such as delayed greening and seasonal leaf phenotypes. Phenology of rain forests should change little unless water balance changes markedly, and developmental events in rain forests may be relatively insensitive to moderate changes in CO2 or temperature. Phenology of dry forests could be more sensitive, and in opposite directions, to elevated CO2 and temperatures. Elevated CO2 might delay onset of leaf shedding and stimulate longer life span if stand level transpiration is reduced, whereas higher temperatures could lead to more rapid water depletion, longer leafless periods, and more strongly synchronized phenology. -from Author

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-174
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Journal of Botany
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995


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