Articles | Volume 13, issue 17
Biogeosciences, 13, 5085–5102, 2016

Special issue: OzFlux: a network for the study of ecosystem carbon and water...

Biogeosciences, 13, 5085–5102, 2016

Reviews and syntheses 13 Sep 2016

Reviews and syntheses | 13 Sep 2016

Reviews and syntheses: Australian vegetation phenology: new insights from satellite remote sensing and digital repeat photography

Caitlin E. Moore1,2, Tim Brown3, Trevor F. Keenan4,5, Remko A. Duursma6, Albert I. J. M. van Dijk7, Jason Beringer8, Darius Culvenor9, Bradley Evans10,11, Alfredo Huete12, Lindsay B. Hutley13, Stefan Maier14, Natalia Restrepo-Coupe12, Oliver Sonnentag15, Alison Specht16,17, Jeffrey R. Taylor18, Eva van Gorsel19, and Michael J. Liddell20 Caitlin E. Moore et al.
  • 1School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia
  • 2Genomic Ecology of Global Change, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
  • 3Research School of Biology, Plant Sciences, Australian National University, Acton, ACT 0200 Australia
  • 4Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde NSW 2109, Australia
  • 5Lawrence Berkeley National Lab., 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
  • 6Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW 2751, Australia
  • 7Fenner School of Environment & Society, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia
  • 8School of Earth and Environment, University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, WA, Understory Australia
  • 9Environmental Sensing Systems, 16 Mawby Road, Bentleigh East, VIC 3165, Australia
  • 10Department of Environmental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Eveleigh, NSW, Australia
  • 11Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network Ecosystem Modelling and Scaling Infrastructure, The University of Sydney, Eveleigh, NSW, Australia
  • 12Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, NSW, Australia
  • 13School of Environment, Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, NT 0909, Australia
  • 14Maitec, P.O. Box U19, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0815, Australia
  • 15Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada
  • 16Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
  • 17Centre of Analysis and Synthesis of Biodiversity, Domaine de Petit Arbois, Immeuble Henri Poincaré, Rue Louis Philibert, Aix-en-Provence, France
  • 18Institute of Technology Campus, Nova Scotia College System, Halifax, NS B3K 2T3, Canada
  • 19CSIRO, Ocean and Atmosphere Flagship, Yarralumla, ACT 2601, Australia
  • 20College of Science, Technology and Engineering, James Cook University, Cairns, QLD 4878, Australia

Abstract. Phenology is the study of periodic biological occurrences and can provide important insights into the influence of climatic variability and change on ecosystems. Understanding Australia's vegetation phenology is a challenge due to its diverse range of ecosystems, from savannas and tropical rainforests to temperate eucalypt woodlands, semi-arid scrublands, and alpine grasslands. These ecosystems exhibit marked differences in seasonal patterns of canopy development and plant life-cycle events, much of which deviates from the predictable seasonal phenological pulse of temperate deciduous and boreal biomes. Many Australian ecosystems are subject to irregular events (i.e. drought, flooding, cyclones, and fire) that can alter ecosystem composition, structure, and functioning just as much as seasonal change. We show how satellite remote sensing and ground-based digital repeat photography (i.e. phenocams) can be used to improve understanding of phenology in Australian ecosystems. First, we examine temporal variation in phenology on the continental scale using the enhanced vegetation index (EVI), calculated from MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. Spatial gradients are revealed, ranging from regions with pronounced seasonality in canopy development (i.e. tropical savannas) to regions where seasonal variation is minimal (i.e. tropical rainforests) or high but irregular (i.e. arid ecosystems). Next, we use time series colour information extracted from phenocam imagery to illustrate a range of phenological signals in four contrasting Australian ecosystems. These include greening and senescing events in tropical savannas and temperate eucalypt understorey, as well as strong seasonal dynamics of individual trees in a seemingly static evergreen rainforest. We also demonstrate how phenology links with ecosystem gross primary productivity (from eddy covariance) and discuss why these processes are linked in some ecosystems but not others. We conclude that phenocams have the potential to greatly improve the current understanding of Australian ecosystems. To facilitate the sharing of this information, we have formed the Australian Phenocam Network (

Short summary
Australian vegetation phenology is highly variable due to the diversity of ecosystems on the continent. We explore continental-scale variability using satellite remote sensing by broadly classifying areas as seasonal, non-seasonal, or irregularly seasonal. We also examine ecosystem-scale phenology using phenocams and show that some broadly non-seasonal ecosystems do display phenological variability. Overall, phenocams are useful for understanding ecosystem-scale Australian vegetation phenology.
Final-revised paper