The spatial pattern of leaf phenology and its response to climate change in China

Abstract

Leaf phenology has been shown to be one of the most important indicators of the effects of climate change on biological systems. Few such studies have, however, been published detailing the relationship between phenology and climate change in Asian contexts. With the aim of quantifying species’ phenological responsiveness to temperature and deepening understandings of spatial patterns of phenological and climate change in China, this study analyzes the first leaf date (FLD) and the leaf coloring date (LCD) from datasets of four woody plant species, Robinia pseudoacacia, Ulmus pumila, Salix babylonica, and Melia azedarach, collected from 1963 to 2009 at 47 Chinese Phenological Observation Network (CPON) stations spread across China (from 21° to 50° N). The results of this study show that changes in temperatures in the range of 39–43 days preceding the date of FLD of these plants affected annual variations in FLD, while annual variations in temperature in the range of 71–85 days preceding LCD of these plants affected the date of LCD. Average temperature sensitivity of FLD and LCD for these plants was −3.93 to 3.30 days °C−1 and 2.11 to 4.43 days °C−1, respectively. Temperature sensitivity of FLD was found to be stronger at lower latitudes or altitude as well as in more continental climates, while the response of LCD showed no consistent pattern. Within the context of significant warming across China during the study period, FLD was found to have advanced by 5.44 days from 1960 to 2009; over the same period, LCD was found to have been delayed by 4.56 days. These findings indicate that the length of the growing season of the four plant species studied was extended by a total of 10.00 days from 1960 to 2009. They also indicate that phenological response to climate is highly heterogeneous spatially.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Key Project of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC, No. 41030101); the National Basic Research Program of China (2012CB955304), NSFC project (No. 41171043); and the “Strategic Priority Research Program—Climate Change: Carbon Budget and Relevant Issues” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. XDA05090301). We would very much like to thank Gregory Pierce and two anonymous reviewers for constructive suggestions.

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Correspondence to Quansheng Ge.

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Dai, J., Wang, H. & Ge, Q. The spatial pattern of leaf phenology and its response to climate change in China. Int J Biometeorol 58, 521–528 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-013-0679-2

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Keywords

  • Leaf phenology
  • First leaf date (FLD)
  • Leaf coloring date (LCD)
  • Temperature
  • China