Leaf phenology remains one of the most difficult processes to parameterize in terrestrial ecosystem models because our understanding of the physical processes that initiate leaf onset and senescence is incomplete. While progress has been made at the molecular level, for example by identifying genes that are associated with senescence and flowering for selected plant species, a picture of the processes controlling leaf phenology is only beginning to emerge. A variety of empirical formulations have been used with varying degrees of success in terrestrial ecosystem models for both extratropical and tropical biomes. For instance, the use of growing degree-days (GDDs) to initiate leaf onset has received considerable recognition and this approach is used in a number of models. There are, however, limitations when using GDDs and other empirically based formulations in global transient climate change simulations.
The phenology scheme developed for the Canadian Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (CTEM), designed for inclusion in the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis coupled general circulation model, is described. The representation of leaf phenology is general enough to be applied over the globe and sufficiently robust for use in transient climate change simulations. Leaf phenology is functionally related to the (possibly changing) climate state and to atmospheric composition rather than to geographical boundaries or controls implicitly based on current climate. In this approach, phenology is controlled by environmental conditions as they affect the carbon balance. A carbon-gain-based scheme initiates leaf onset when it is beneficial for the plant, in carbon terms, to produce new leaves. Leaf offset is initiated by unfavourable environmental conditions that incur carbon losses and these include shorter day length, cooler temperatures, and dry soil moisture conditions. The comparison of simulated leaf onset and offset times with observation-based estimates for temperate and boreal deciduous, tropical evergreen, and tropical deciduous plant functional types at selected locations indicates that the phenology scheme performs satisfactorily. Model simulated leaf area index and stem and root biomass are also compared with observational estimates to illustrate the performance of CTEM.