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Modeling seasonal vegetation phenology from hydroclimatic drivers for contrasting plant functional groups within drylands of the Southwestern USA

Warter, Maria Magdalena, Singer, Michael Bliss ORCID:, Cuthbert, Mark O. ORCID:, Roberts, Dar A., Caylor, Kelly K., Sabathier, Romy and Stella, John C. 2023. Modeling seasonal vegetation phenology from hydroclimatic drivers for contrasting plant functional groups within drylands of the Southwestern USA. Environmental Research: Ecology 2 (2) , 025001. 10.1088/2752-664X/acb9a0

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In dryland ecosystems, vegetation within different plant functional groups exhibits distinct seasonal phenologies that are affected by the prevailing hydroclimatic forcing conditions. The seasonal variability of precipitation, atmospheric evaporative demand, and streamflow influences root-zone water availability to plants in water-limited environments. Increasing interannual variations in climate forcing of the local water balance and uncertainty regarding climate change projections have raised the potential for phenological shifts and changes to vegetation dynamics, posing risks to plant functional types across large areas, especially in drylands and within riparian ecosystems. Due to the complex interactions between climate, water availability, and seasonal plant water use, the timing and amplitude of phenological responses to specific hydroclimate forcing cannot be determined a priori, thus limiting efforts to dynamically predict vegetation greenness under future climate change. Here, we analyze two decades (1994-2021) of remote sensing data of soil adjusted vegetation index (SAVI) as well as contemporaneous hydroclimate data (precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, depth to groundwater, and air temperature), to identify and quantify the key hydroclimatic controls on the timing and amplitude of seasonal greenness. We focus on key phenological events across four different plant functional groups occupying distinct locations and rooting depths in dryland SE Arizona: xeric grasses and shrubs, xeric riparian terrace and hydric riparian floodplain trees. We find bimodal seasonal phenology curves for grass and shrubs that are strongly driven by contributions from spring and monsoonal precipitation, while canopy greenness in floodplain and terrace vegetation showed strong response to groundwater depth as well as antecedent available precipitation (P-PET) throughout reaches of perennial and intermediate streamflow permanence. The timings of spring green-up and autumn senescence were correlated with seasonal changes in air temperature for all plant functional groups. Based on these findings, we develop and test a simple, empirical phenology model, that predicts the timing and amplitude of greenness based on hydroclimate forcing. We demonstrate the feasibility of the model by exploring simple, plausible climate change scenarios, which may inform our understanding of phenological shifts in dryland plant communities and may ultimately improve our predictive capability of investigating and predicting climate-phenology interactions in the future.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: IOP Publishing
ISSN: 2752-664X
Funders: NERC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 February 2023
Date of Acceptance: 7 February 2023
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2023 19:06

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