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Reviews and syntheses: Australian vegetation phenology: New insights from satellite remote sensing and digital repeat photography

  • Author(s): Moore, CE
  • Brown, T
  • Keenan, TF
  • Duursma, RA
  • Van Dijk, AIJM
  • Beringer, J
  • Culvenor, D
  • Evans, B
  • Huete, A
  • Hutley, LB
  • Maier, S
  • Restrepo-Coupe, N
  • Sonnentag, O
  • Specht, A
  • Taylor, JR
  • Van Gorsel, E
  • Liddell, MJ
  • et al.
Abstract

Phenology is the study of periodic biological occurrences and can provide important insights into the influence of climatic variability and change on ecosystems. Understanding Australia's vegetation phenology is a challenge due to its diverse range of ecosystems, from savannas and tropical rainforests to temperate eucalypt woodlands, semiarid scrublands, and alpine grasslands. These ecosystems exhibit marked differences in seasonal patterns of canopy development and plant life-cycle events, much of which deviates from the predictable seasonal phenological pulse of temperate deciduous and boreal biomes. Many Australian ecosystems are subject to irregular events (i.e. drought, flooding, cyclones, and fire) that can alter ecosystem composition, structure, and functioning just as much as seasonal change. We show how satellite remote sensing and ground-based digital repeat photography (i.e. phenocams) can be used to improve understanding of phenology in Australian ecosystems. First, we examine temporal variation in phenology on the continental scale using the enhanced vegetation index (EVI), calculated from MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. Spatial gradients are revealed, ranging from regions with pronounced seasonality in canopy development (i.e. tropical savannas) to regions where seasonal variation is minimal (i.e. tropical rainforests) or high but irregular (i.e. arid ecosystems). Next, we use time series colour information extracted from phenocam imagery to illustrate a range of phenological signals in four contrasting Australian ecosystems. These include greening and senescing events in tropical savannas and temperate eucalypt understorey, as well as strong seasonal dynamics of individual trees in a seemingly static evergreen rainforest. We also demonstrate how phenology links with ecosystem gross primary productivity (from eddy covariance) and discuss why these processes are linked in some ecosystems but not others. We conclude that phenocams have the potential to greatly improve the current understanding of Australian ecosystems. To facilitate the sharing of this information, we have formed the Australian Phenocam Network (http://phenocam.org.au/).

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