TitleFunctional traits predict tree-level phenological strategies in a mesic Indian savanna
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsOngole S, Teegalapalli K, Byrapoghu V, Ratnam J, Sankaran M
Date Published06/2021

Leaf phenology influences terrestrial primary production by determining the period of carbon uptake. While dominant leaf habit (evergreen/deciduous) is predictable at large scales based on environmental factors, there is substantial variability in the timing of key events such as leaf flush and senescence at smaller site-level scales. How much of this variability is explained by species functional traits related to a plant's carbon economy? We monitored leaf phenology for 113 individual trees of eleven dominant species in an Indian mesic savanna. Specifically, we related leaf functional traits and wood density to the (i) timing of leaf flush, leaf maturity, peak canopy, and senescence, (ii) duration of leaf deployment, (iii) duration from start of senescence to leaflessness, and (iv) time to attainment of peak mature canopy following leaf flush. We expected species that use resources conservatively (low specific leaf area (SLA), high leaf dry matter content, low leaf nitrogen, and high wood density) to senesce later and retain their leaves longer. For all species, leaflessness was most pronounced in early dry season and leaf flushing occurred in the late dry season. Species with high leaf carbon and dry matter content showed earlier leaf maturation, attained peak mature canopies sooner, and deployed leaves longer. Species with high SLA, leaf nitrogen, and low wood density showed earlier senescence but relationships were weak. In this savanna, phenology at fine scales was indeed associated with species functional traits relating to carbon investment, but these relationships were strong only when intra-specific variation in phenology was low.