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Latitudinal patterns in the phenological responses of leaf colouring and leaf fall to climate change in Japan


*Correspondence: Hideyuki Doi, LAFWEDY, Faculty of Agriculture, Ehime University, 3-5-7, Tarumi, Matsuyama, 790-8566, Japan. E-mail:


Aim  To estimate the potential effect of global climate change on the phenological responses of plants it is necessary to estimate spatial variations at larger scales. However, previous studies have not estimated latitudinal patterns in the phenological response directly. We hypothesized that the phenological response of plants varies with latitude, and estimated the phenological response to long-term climate change using autumn phenological events that have been delayed by recent climate change.

Location  Japan.

Methods  We used a 53-year data set to document the latitudinal patterns in the climate responses of the timing of autumn leaf colouring and fall for two tree species over a wide range of latitudes in Japan (31 to 44° N). We calculated single regression slopes for leaf phenological timing and air temperature across Japan and tested their latitudinal patterns using regression models. The effects of latitude, time and their interaction on the responses of the phenological timings were also estimated using generalized linear mixed models.

Results  Our results showed that single regression slopes of leaf phenological timing and air temperature in autumn were positive at most stations. Higher temperatures can delay the timing of leaf phenology. Negative relationships were found between the phenological response of leaves to temperature and latitude. Single regression slopes of the phenological responses at lower latitudes were larger than those at higher latitudes.

Main conclusions  We found negative relationships between leaf phenological responsiveness and latitude. These findings will be important for predicting phenological timing with global climate change.