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'Pre-rain green-up is ubiquitous across southern tropical Africa: implications for temporal niche separation and model representation

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Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date29 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


Tree phenology mediates land-atmosphere mass and energy exchange and is a determinant of ecosystem structure and function. In the dry tropics, including African savannas, many trees grow new leaves during the dry season – weeks or months before the rains typically start. This syndrome of pre-rain green-up has long been recognised at small scales, but the high spatial and interspecific variability in leaf phenology has precluded regional generalisationsWe use remote sensing data to show that this precocious phenology is ubiquitous across the woodlands and savannas of southern tropical Africa.In 70% of the study area, green-up preceded rain onset by > 20 days (42% >40 days). All the main vegetation formations exhibit pre-rain green-up, by as much as 53±18 days (in the wet miombo). Green-up shows low interannual variability (SD between years = 11 days), and high spatial variability (>100 days)These results are consistent with a high degree of local phenological adaptation, and an insolation trigger of green-up. Tree-tree competition and niche separation may explain the ubiquity of this precocious phenology. The ubiquity of pre-rain green-up described here challenges existing model representations and suggests resistance (but not necessarily resilience) to the delay in rain onset predicted under climate change.

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