Deciduousness in a seasonal tropical forest in western Thailand: Interannual and intraspecific variation in timing, duration and environmental cues
Seasonal tropical forests exhibit a great diversity of leaf exchange patterns. Within these forests variation in the timing and intensity of leaf exchange may occur within and among individual trees and species, as well as from year to year. Understanding what generates this diversity of phenological behaviour requires a mechanistic model that incorporates rate-limiting physiological conditions, environmental cues, and their interactions. In this study we examined long-term patterns of leaf flushing for a large proportion of the hundreds of tree species that co-occur in a seasonal tropical forest community in western Thailand. We used the data to examine community-wide variation in deciduousness and tested competing hypotheses regarding the timing and triggers of leaf flushing in seasonal tropical forests. We developed metrics to quantify the nature of deciduousness (its magnitude, timing and duration) and its variability among survey years and across a range of taxonomic levels. Tree species varied widely in the magnitude, duration, and variability of leaf loss within species and across years. The magnitude of deciduousness ranged from complete crown loss to no crown loss. Among species that lost most of their crown, the duration of deciduousness ranged from 2 to 21 weeks. The duration of deciduousness in the majority of species was considerably shorter than in neotropical forests with similar rainfall periodicity. While the timing of leaf flushing varied among species, most (~70%) flushed during the dry season. Leaf flushing was associated with changes in photoperiod in some species and the timing of rainfall in other species. However, more than a third of species showed no clear association with either photoperiod or rainfall, despite the considerable length and depth of the dataset. Further progress in resolving the underlying internal and external mechanisms controlling leaf exchange will require targeting these species for detailed physiological and microclimatic studies.