Abrupt shifts in phenology and vegetation productivity under climate extremes

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 2015, 120 (10), pp. 2036 - 2052
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©2015. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Amplification of the hydrologic cycle as a consequence of global warming is predicted to increase climate variability and the frequency and severity of droughts. Recent large-scale drought and flooding over numerous continents provide unique opportunities to understand ecosystem responses to climatic extremes. In this study, we investigated the impacts of the early 21st century extreme hydroclimatic variations in southeastern Australia on phenology and vegetation productivity using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Enhanced Vegetation Index and Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index. Results revealed dramatic impacts of drought and wet extremes on vegetation dynamics, with abrupt between year changes in phenology. Drought resulted in widespread reductions or collapse in the normal patterns of seasonality such that in many cases there was no detectable phenological cycle during drought years. Across the full range of biomes examined, we found semiarid ecosystems to exhibit the largest sensitivity to hydroclimatic variations, exceeding that of arid and humid ecosystems. This result demonstrated the vulnerability of semiarid ecosystems to climatic extremes and potential loss of ecosystem resilience with future mega-drought events. A skewed distribution of hydroclimatic sensitivity with aridity is of global biogeochemical significance because it suggests that current drying trends in semiarid regions will reduce hydroclimatic sensitivity and suppress the large carbon sink that has been reported during recent wet periods (e.g., 2011 La Niña).
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