Leaf-out phenology of temperate woody plants: from trees to ecosystems


Author for correspondence:
Caroline A. Polgar
Tel: +1 617 877 5002
Email: polgar@bu.edu



II.What triggers a plant to leaf-out?928
III.Variation in leaf-out among species929
IV.Leaf-out and climate change932


Leafing-out of woody plants begins the growing season in temperate forests and is one of the most important drivers of ecosystem processes. There is substantial variation in the timing of leaf-out, both within and among species, but the leaf development of almost all temperate tree and shrub species is highly sensitive to temperature. As a result, leaf-out times of temperate forests are valuable for observing the effects of climate change. Analysis of phenology data from around the world indicates that leaf-out is generally earlier in warmer years than in cooler years and that the onset of leaf-out has advanced in many locations. Changes in the timing of leaf-out will affect carbon sequestration, plant–animal interactions, and other essential ecosystem processes. The development of remote sensing methods has expanded the scope of leaf-out monitoring from the level of an individual plant or forest to an entire region. Meanwhile, historical data have informed modeling and experimental studies addressing questions about leaf-out timing. For most species, onset of leaf-out will continue to advance, although advancement may be slowed for some species because of unmet chilling requirements. More information is needed to reduce the uncertainty in predicting the timing of future spring onset.