John A. de Freitas

Phenological trajectories of Caribbean very dry tropical forests diverge under different geologic formations

Tropical dry forests experience pronounced seasonal changes in precipitation mani- 
fested in varied plant phenologies. At landscape scales, geologic substrate—one of the 
least understood abiotic factors interacting with precipitation—may modulate phe- 
nological responses in these forests through a combination of mechanisms regulat- 
ing water and nutrient use. We leveraged a phenological dataset from the semiarid 
island of Curaçao to examine the extent to which plant phenology at multiple levels 
of biological organization diverge under different geologies. Monthly observations 
over a 30-month period of leaves, flowers, and fruits of 69 plant species of different 
life forms at three nearby sites differing in their underlaying geology were used to 
examine intra- and inter-annual plant responses at species, community, and system 
levels. The integration of leaf, flower, and fruit observations at intra-annual scales 
revealed diverse phenological strategies among species, broad associations with geo- 
logic substrate, and the extent of intra-specific variation as a function of geology. The 
community- and system-level analyses at inter-annual scales showed a reduction in 
mean leaf scores during the 30-month period, a weak and strong leafless period in 
1993 and 1994, respectively, and differences among geologic substrates. Finally, we 
observed significant and positive relationships between precipitation and the pheno- 
phase scores; the strength of the relationships varied with phenophase and geologic 
substrate. Results of this work emphasize the importance of geologic substrate, and 
more broadly speaking landscape heterogeneity, in modulating plant phenological re- 
sponses in tropical dry forests. Ultimately, this information will become important to 
understand and mitigate global climate change impacts.
Abstract in Spanish is available with online material.

Data type
Scientific article
Research and monitoring
Geographic location