Background and Aims
Ongoing global warming has been implicated in shifting phenological patterns such as the timing and duration of the growing season across a wide variety of ecosystems. Linear models are routinely used to extrapolate these observed shifts in phenology into the future and to estimate changes in associated ecosystem properties such as net primary productivity. Yet, in nature, linear relationships may be special cases. Biological processes frequently follow more complex, non-linear patterns according to limiting factors that generate shifts and discontinuities, or contain thresholds beyond which responses change abruptly. This study investigates to what extent cambium phenology is associated with xylem growth and differentiation across conifer species of the northern hemisphere.
Xylem cell production is compared with the periods of cambial activity and cell differentiation assessed on a weekly time scale on histological sections of cambium and wood tissue collected from the stems of nine species in Canada and Europe over 1–9 years per site from 1998 to 2011.
The dynamics of xylogenesis were surprisingly homogeneous among conifer species, although dispersions from the average were obviously observed. Within the range analysed, the relationships between the phenological timings were linear, with several slopes showing values close to or not statistically different from 1. The relationships between the phenological timings and cell production were distinctly non-linear, and involved an exponential pattern
The trees adjust their phenological timings according to linear patterns. Thus, shifts of one phenological phase are associated with synchronous and comparable shifts of the successive phases. However, small increases in the duration of xylogenesis could correspond to a substantial increase in cell production. The findings suggest that the length of the growing season and the resulting amount of growth could respond differently to changes in environmental conditions.