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Title Microspatial differences in soil temperature cause phenology change on par with long-term climate warming in salt marshes
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Phenology studies mostly focus on variation across time or landscapes. However, phenology can vary at fine spatial scales, and these differences may be as important as long-term change from climate warming. We used high-frequency ''PhenoCam'' data to examine phenology of Spartina alterniflora, afoundation species native to salt marshes on the US East and Gulf coasts, and a common colonizer elsewhere. We examined phenology across three microhabitats from 2013 to 2017 and used this information to create the first spring green-up model for S. alterniflora. We then compared modern spatial variation to that exhibited over a 60-year climate record. Marsh interior plants initiated spring growth 17 days earlier than channel edge plants and spent 35 days more in the green-up phenophase and 25 days less in the maturity phenophase. The start of green-up varied by 17 days among 3 years. The best spring green-up model was based on winter soil total growing degree days. Across microhabitats, spring green-up differences were caused by small elevation changes (15 cm) that drove soil temperature variation of 0.8C. Preliminary evidence indicated that high winter belowground biomass depletion triggered early green-up. Long-term change was similar: winter soil temperatures warmed 1.7 ± 0.3C since 1958, and green-up advanced 11 ± 6 days, whereas contemporary microhabitat differences were 17 ± 4 days. Incorporating local spatial variation into plant phenology models may provide an early warning of climate vulnerability and improve understanding of ecosystem-scale productivity. Microscale phenology variation likely exists in other systems and has been unappreciated.

Contributors Jessica O'Connell, Merryl Alber and Steven C. Pennings

O'Connell, J., Alber, M. and Pennings, S.C. 2019. Microspatial differences in soil temperature cause phenology change on par with long-term climate warming in salt marshes. Ecosystems. (DOI:

Key Words coastal tidal marsh, digital camera imagery, Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER, global climate change, microhabitat, PhenoCam, soil temperature gradient, Spartina alterniflora, Sporobolus alterniflorus, spring green-up, UGAMI Publication
File Date 2019
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants OCE-9982133, OCE-0620959, OCE-1237140 and OCE-1832178. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.