Multi-scale phenology of temperate grasslands: Improving monitoring and management with near-surface phenocams

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Frontiers in Environmental Science, 2019, 7 (FEB)
Issue Date:
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© 2019 Watson, Restrepo-Coupe and Huete. Grasslands of the Australian Southern Tablelands represent a patchwork of native and exotic systems, occupying a continuum of C 3 -dominated to C 4 -dominated grasslands where composition depends on disturbance factors (e.g., grazing) and climate. Managing these complex landscapes is both challenging and critical for maintaining the security of Australia's pasture industries, and for protecting the biodiversity of native remnants. Differentiating C 3 from C 4 vegetation has been a prominent theme in remote sensing research due to distinct C 3 /C 4 seasonal productivity patterns (phenology) and high uncertainty about how C 3 /C 4 vegetation will respond to a changing climate. Phenology is used in northern hemisphere ecosystems for a range of purposes but has not been widely adopted in Australia, where dynamic climate often results in non-repetitive seasonal vegetation patterns. We employed time-lapse cameras (phenocams) to study the phenology of twelve grassland areas dominated by cool season (C 3 ) and warm season (C 4 ), native or exotic grasses near Canberra, Australia. Our aims were to assess phenological characteristics of the functional types and to determine the drivers of phenological variability. We compared the fine-scale phenocam seasonal profiles with field sampling and MODIS/Landsat satellite products to assess paddock-to-landscape functioning. We found C 3 /C 4 species dominance to be the primary driver of phenological differences among grassland types, with C 3 grasslands demonstrating peak greenness in spring, and senescing rapidly in response to high summer temperatures. In contrast, C 4 grasslands showed peak activity in Austral summer and autumn (January-March). Some sites displayed primary and secondary peaks dependent on rainfall and species composition. We found that the proportion of dead vegetation is an important biophysical driver of grassland phenology, as were grazing pressures and species-dependent responses to rainfall and temperature. The satellite and field datasets were in general agreement with the phenocam results. However, the higher temporal fidelity of the cameras captured changes in vegetation not observed in the coarser satellite or field results. Our phenocam data shows consistent periods of increasing and decreasing greenness over as little as 5 days. Applications for management of grasslands in temperate Australia include the identification of remnant native grasslands, tracking biosecurity issues, and assessing productivity responses to climate variability.
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