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Asynchronous response of tropical forest leaf phenology to seasonal and el Niño-driven drought.

  • Author(s): Pau, Stephanie
  • Okin, Gregory S
  • Gillespie, Thomas W
  • et al.
Abstract

The Hawaiian Islands are an ideal location to study the response of tropical forests to climate variability because of their extreme isolation in the middle of the Pacific, which makes them especially sensitive to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Most research examining the response of tropical forests to drought or El Niño have focused on rainforests, however, tropical dry forests cover a large area of the tropics and may respond very differently than rainforests. We use satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from February 2000-February 2009 to show that rainforests and dry forests in the Hawaiian Islands exhibit asynchronous responses in leaf phenology to seasonal and El Niño-driven drought. Dry forest NDVI was more tightly coupled with precipitation compared to rainforest NDVI. Rainforest cloud frequency was negatively correlated with the degree of asynchronicity (Delta(NDVI)) between forest types, most strongly at a 1-month lag. Rainforest green-up and dry forest brown-down was particularly apparent during the 2002-003 El Niño. The spatial pattern of NDVI response to the NINO 3.4 Sea Surface Temperature (SST) index during 2002-2003 showed that the leeward side exhibited significant negative correlations to increased SSTs, whereas the windward side exhibited significant positive correlations to increased SSTs, most evident at an 8 to 9-month lag. This study demonstrates that different tropical forest types exhibit asynchronous responses to seasonal and El Niño-driven drought, and suggests that mechanisms controlling dry forest leaf phenology are related to water-limitation, whereas rainforests are more light-limited.

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