Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
18 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 18 Feb 2016

The effect of using the plant functional type paradigm on a data-constrained global phenology model

Silvia Caldararu, Drew W. Purves, and Matthew J. Smith

Abstract. Leaf seasonality impacts a variety of important biological, chemical, and physical Earth system processes, which makes it essential to represent leaf phenology in ecosystem and climate models. However, we are still lacking a general, robust parametrisation of phenology at global scales. In this study, we use a simple process-based model, which describes phenology as a strategy for carbon optimality, to test the effects of the common simplification in global modelling studies that plant species within the same plant functional type (PFT) have the same parameter values, implying they are assumed to have the same species traits. In a previous study this model was shown to predict spatial and temporal dynamics of leaf area index (LAI) well across the entire global land surface provided local grid cell parameters were used, and is able to explain 96 % of the spatial variation in average LAI and 87 % of the variation in amplitude. In contrast, we find here that a PFT level parametrisation is unable to capture the spatial variability in seasonal cycles, explaining on average only 28 % of the spatial variation in mean leaf area index and 12 % of the variation in seasonal amplitude. However, we also show that allowing only two parameters, light compensation point and leaf age, to be spatially variable dramatically improves the model predictions, increasing the model's capability of explaining spatial variations in leaf seasonality to 70 and 57 % of the variation in LAI average and amplitude, respectively. This highlights the importance of identifying the spatial scale of variation of plant traits and the necessity to critically analyse the use of the plant functional type assumption in Earth system models.

Short summary
The plant functional type (PFT) concept is widely used in global vegetation models but recent studies have attempted to replace this with a more biologically representative formulation by using plant traits. In this study we aim to quantify the performance of a data-constrained leaf phenology model that uses PFTs when compared to one that uses local traits. We show that the PFT model performs relatively poorly but we can identify a small number of traits that improve model performance.
Final-revised paper