Biodiversity Science ›› 2013, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (1): 111-116.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2013.06187

• Orginal Article • Previous Article     Next Article

Leaf out phenology in temperate forests

Caroline A. Polgar, Richard B. Primack*()   

  1. Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215)Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215
  • Received:2012-10-08 Accepted:2012-12-27 Online:2013-02-04
  • B. Primack Richard E-mail:primack@bu.edu

Monitoring phenology, the study of the timing of natural events, is an ancient practice that has experienced renewed relevance for scientific research interest in the wake of awareness of anthropogenic climate change. Spring onset has been occurring significantly earlier in temperate regions worldwide. Leaf out phenology has become particularly well studied is of particular interest because the emergence of leaves in the spring is extremely sensitive to temperature, and the leaf out timing of leaf out in temperate ecosystems marks the onset of the growing season and controls many essential ecosystem processes. This article reviews the current literature concerning the different methods used to study leaf out phenology, the controls on leaf out in temperate woody plants, and the effects of climate change on leaf out phenology. In addition to the traditional method of on-the-ground leaf out monitoring, new methods using remote sensing and dedicated cameras have been developed which allow scientists to track spring onset at a much larger scale than had previously been possible. Further work is needed on how leaf phenology will respond to future climate change, and the implications of this for animals and other species interactions among trophic levels.

Key words: phenology, climate change, leaf out, temperate forest, dormancy release

Fig. 1

Leaf out pictures taken by scientists monitoring leafing in a traditional on-the-ground study (taken by Richard B. Primack at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts USA)"

Fig. 2

A graph showing the growth of the leaf canopy over a growing seasons using satellite data from a location in New England, in the northeastern United States. The vegetation data is fit to logistic growth sigmoid functions and the onset and offset of greenness are calculated at the half-maxima of the curve. The quality of the data points is indicated by the symbol shading, with black diamonds having the least error and white diamonds having the most error. Figure from Fisher et al., 2006)."

Fig. 3

A sequence of photos taken over a three week period in the spring of 2011 showing the development of the leaf canopy at Minute Man National Historical Site, a park in Concord, Massachusetts (Photos by Richard B. Primack)"

Fig. 4

A hillside in the northeastern United States showing the effects of a late frost following a period of warming. Trees that responded more quickly to warm temperatures, such as sugar maples, suffered damage to early leaves, while more conservative leafing species, such as American beech, fared better and are developing normally. Figure from (Hufkens et al., 2012b)."

Fig. 5

Leaf out pictures taken at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts USA by scientists monitoring leafing in a traditional on-the-ground study (taken by Dr. Richard B. Primack)"

Fig. 6

A graph showing the growth of the leaf canopy over a growing season using satellite data from a location in New England, in the northeastern United States. The vegetation data is fit to logistic growth sigmoid functions and the onset and offset of greenness are calculated at the half-maxima of the curve. The quality of the data points is indicated by the symbol shading, with black diamonds having the least error and white diamonds having the most error (Figure from Fisher et al., 2006)."

Fig. 7

A sequence of photos taken over a three week period in the spring of 2011 showing the development of the leaf canopy at Minute Man National Historical Site, a park in Concord, Massachusetts, with a bridge, a monument, and statue as points of reference. The leaf out times of individual trees can be seen in these photos. Photos by Richard B. Primack."

Fig. 8

A hillside in the northeastern United States showing the effects of a late frost following a period of warming. Trees that responded more quickly to warm temperatures, such as sugar maples, suffered damage to early leaves, while more conservative leafing species, such as American beech, fared better and are developing normally. Figure from (Hufkens et al., 2012b)"

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