Synchrony, compensatory dynamics, and the functional trait basis of phenological diversity in a tropical dry forest tree community: Effects of rainfall seasonality

Jesse R. Lasky, María Uriarte, Robert Muscarella

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43 Scopus citations


Interspecific variation in phenology is a key axis of functional diversity, potentially mediating how communities respond to climate change. The diverse drivers of phenology act across multiple temporal scales. For example, abiotic constraints favor synchronous reproduction (positive covariance among species), while biotic interactions can favor synchrony or compensatory dynamics (negative covariance). We used wavelet analyses to examine phenology of community flower and seed production for 45 tree species across multiple temporal scales in a tropical dry forest in Puerto Rico with marked rainfall seasonality. We asked three questions: (1) do species exhibit synchronous or compensatory temporal dynamics in reproduction, (2) do interspecific differences in phenology reflect variable responses to rainfall, and (3) is interspecific variation in phenology and response to a major drought associated with functional traits that mediate responses to moisture? Community-level flowering was synchronized at seasonal scales (∼5-6 mo) and at short scales (∼1 mo, following rainfall). However, seed rain exhibited significant compensatory dynamics at intraseasonal scales (∼3 mo), suggesting interspecific variation in temporal niches. Species with large leaves (associated with sensitivity to water deficit) peaked in reproduction synchronously with the peak of seasonal rainfall (∼5 mo scale). By contrast, species with high wood specific gravity (associated with drought resistance) tended to flower in drier periods. Flowering of tall species and those with large leaves was most tightly linked to intraseasonal (∼2 mo scale) rainfall fluctuations. Although the 2015 drought dramatically reduced community-wide reproduction, functional traits were not associated with the magnitude of species-specific declines. Our results suggest opposing drivers of synchronous versus compensatory dynamics at different temporal scales. Phenology associations with functional traits indicated that distinct strategies for coping with seasonality underlie phenological diversity. Observed drought responses highlight the importance of non-linear community responses to climate. Community phenology exhibits scale-specific patterns highlighting the need for multi-scale approaches to community dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115003
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 8 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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