Leaf ontogeny and demography explain photosynthetic seasonality in Amazon evergreen forests
Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Photosynthetic seasonality couples the evolutionary ecology of plant leaves to large-scale rhythms of carbon and water exchanges that are important feedbacks to climate. However, the extent, magnitude, and controls on photosynthetic seasonality of carbon-rich tropical forests are poorly resolved, controversial in the remote sensing literature, and inadequately represented in most earth system models. Here we show that ecosystem-scale phenology (measured by photosynthetic capacity), rather than environmental seasonality, is the primary driver of photosynthetic seasonality at four Amazon evergreen forests spanning gradients in rainfall seasonality, forest composition, and flux seasonality. We further demonstrate that leaf ontogeny and demography explain most of this ecosystem phenology at two central Amazon evergreen forests, using a simple leaf-cohort canopy model that integrates eddy covariance-derived CO2 fluxes, novel near-surface camera-detected leaf phenology, and ground observations of litterfall and leaf physiology. The coordination of new leaf growth and old leaf divestment (litterfall) during the dry season shifts canopy composition towards younger leaves with higher photosynthetic efficiency, driving large seasonal increases (~27%) in ecosystem photosynthetic capacity. Leaf ontogeny and demography thus reconciles disparate observations of forest seasonality from leaves to eddy flux towers to satellites. Strategic incorporation of such whole-plant coordination processes as phenology and ontogeny will improve ecological, evolutionary and earth system theories describing tropical forests structure and function, allowing more accurate representation of forest dynamics and feedbacks to climate in earth system models.