Phenological differences between understory and overstory a case study using the long-term Harvard Forest records

Andrew D. Richardson, John O'Keefe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

150 Scopus citations


The timing of phenological events varies both among species, and also among individuals of the same species. Here we use a 12-year record of spring and autumn phenology for 33 woody species at the Harvard Forest to investigate these differences. Specifically, we focus on patterns of leaf budburst, expansion, coloration and fall, in the context of differences between canopy and understory species, and between canopy and understory individuals of the same species. Many understory species appear to adopt a strategy of phenological escape in spring but not autumn, taking advantage of the high-light period in spring before canopy development. For all but a few of these species, the spring escape period is very brief. Relationships between canopy and understory conspecifics (i.e. individuals of the same species) varied among species, with leaf budburst and leaf fall occurring earlier in understory individuals of some species, but later in other species. We fit standard models of varying complexity to the budburst time series for each species to investigate whether biological responses to environmental cues differed among species. While there was no clear consensus model, Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) indicated that a simple two-parameter Spring warming model was best supported by the data for more than a third of all species, and well supported for two-thirds of all species. More highly-parameterized models involving various chilling requirements (e.g., Alternating, Parallel or Sequential chilling) were less well supported by the data. Species-specific model parameterization suggested that responses to both chilling and forcing temperatures vary among species. While there were no obvious differences in this regard between canopy and understory species, or between early- and late-budburst species, these results imply that species can be expected to differ in their responses to future climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPhenology of Ecosystem Processes
Subtitle of host publicationApplications in Global Change Research
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9781441900258
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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