International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 711–721 | Cite as

The ecological significance of phenology in four different tree species: effects of light and temperature on bud burst

  • Amelia CaffarraEmail author
  • Alison Donnelly
Original Paper


The process of adaptation is the result of stabilising selection caused by two opposite forces: protection against an unfavourable season (survival adaptation), and effective use of growing resources (capacity adaptation). As plant species have evolved different life strategies based on different trade offs between survival and capacity adaptations, different phenological responses are also expected among species. The aim of this study was to compare budburst responses of two opportunistic species (Betula pubescens, and Salix x smithiana) with that of two long-lived, late successional species (Fagus sylvatica and Tilia cordata) and consider their ecological significance. Thus, we performed a series of experiments whereby temperature and photoperiod were manipulated during dormancy. T. cordata and F. sylvatica showed low rates of budburst, high chilling requirements and responsiveness to light intensity, while B. pubescens and S. x smithiana had high rates of budburst, low chilling requirements and were not affected by light intensity. In addition, budburst in B. pubescens and S. x smithiana was more responsive to high forcing temperatures than in T. cordata and F. sylvatica. These results suggest that the timing of growth onset in B. pubescens and S. x smithiana (opportunistic) is regulated through a less conservative mechanism than in T. cordata and F. sylvatica (long-lived, late successional), and that these species trade a higher risk of frost damage for the opportunity of vigorous growth at the beginning of spring, before canopy closure. This information should be considered when assessing the impacts of climate change on vegetation or developing phenological models.


Budburst Life strategy Photoperiod Temperature Fagus sylvatica Salix x smithiana Tilia cordata Betula pubescens 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Gerry Douglas and the plant nursery staff at the Irish Agricultural and Food Development Authority (Teagasc) (Dublin) for their technical help. We would also like to thank Duccio Rocchini, Giorgio Maresi and Leonardo Montagnani for advice and proofreading. Finally, we would like to acknowledge support from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency under the Environmental RTDI Programme, 2000–2006 and Climate Change Impacts on Phenology; implications for terrestrial ecosystems.


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Copyright information

© ISB 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Botany, School of Natural SciencesTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.IASMA Research and Innovation CentreEdmund Mach FoundationSan Michele all’AdigeItaly

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