Spatial patterns and temporal dynamics in savanna vegetation phenology across the North Australian Tropical Transect

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Journal Article
Remote Sensing of Environment, 2013, 139 (1), pp. 97 - 115
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The phenology of a landscape is a key parameter in climate and biogeochemical cycle models and its correct representation is central to the accurate simulation of carbon, water and energy exchange between the land surface and the atmosphere. Whereas biogeographic phenological patterns and shifts have received much attention in temperate ecosystems, much less is known about the phenology of savannas, despite their sensitivity to climate change and their coverage of approximately one eighth of the global land surface. Savannas are complex assemblages of multiple tree, shrub, and grass vegetation strata, each with variable phenological responses to seasonal climate and environmental variables. The objectives of this study were to investigate biogeographical and inter-annual patterns in savanna phenology along a 1100 km ecological rainfall gradient, known as North Australian Tropical Transect (NATT), encompassing humid coastal Eucalyptus forests and woodlands to xeric inland Acacia woodlands and shrublands. Key phenology transition dates (start, peak, end, and length of seasonal greening periods) were extracted from13 years (20002012) of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) data using Singular Spectrum Analysis (SSA). Two distinct biogeographical patterns in phenology were observed, controlled by different climate systems. The northern (mesic) portion of the transect, from 12°S, to around 17.7°S, was influenced by the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) seasonal monsoon climate system, resulting in strong latitudinal shifts in phenology patterns, primarily associated with the functional response of the C4 grass layer.
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