Functional differences between summer and winter season rain assessed with MODIS-derived phenology in a semi-arid region


  • Co-ordinating Editor: K. Woods.

*Corresponding author; E-mail


Questions: We asked several linked questions about phenology and precipitation relationships at local, landscape, and regional spatial scales within individual seasons, between seasons, and between year temporal scales. (1) How do winter and summer phenological patterns vary in response to total seasonal rainfall? (2) How are phenological rates affected by the previous season rainfall? (3) How does phenological variability differ at landscape and regional spatial scales and at season and inter-annual temporal scales?

Location: Southern Arizona, USA.

Methods: We compared satellite-derived phenological variation between 38 distinct 625-km2 landscapes distributed in the northern Sonoran Desert region from 2000 to 2007. Regression analyses were used to identify relationships between landscape phenology dynamics in response to precipitation variability across multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Results: While both summer and winter seasons show increases of peak greenness and peak growth with more precipitation, the timing of peak growth was advanced with more precipitation in winter, while the timing of peak greenness was advanced with more precipitation in summer. Surprisingly, summer maximum growth was negatively affected by winter precipitation. The spatial variations between summer and winter phenology were similar in magnitude and response. Larger-scale spatial and temporal variation showed strong differences in precipitation patterns; however the magnitudes of phenological spatial variability in these two seasons were similar.

Conclusions: Vegetation patterns were clearly coupled to precipitation variability, with distinct responses at alternative spatial and temporal scales. Disaggregating vegetation into phenological variation, spanning value, timing, and integrated components revealed substantial complexity in precipitation-phenological relationships.