, Volume 172, Issue 3, pp 653–665 | Cite as

Seasonality and phenology alter functional leaf traits

  • Athena D. McKownEmail author
  • Robert D. Guy
  • M. Shofiul Azam
  • Eric C. Drewes
  • Linda K. Quamme
Physiological ecology - Original research


In plant ecophysiology, functional leaf traits are generally not assessed in relation to phenological phase of the canopy. Leaf traits measured in deciduous perennial species are known to vary between spring and summer seasons, but there is a knowledge gap relating to the late-summer phase marked by growth cessation and bud set occurring well before fall leaf senescence. The effects of phenology on canopy physiology were tested using a common garden of over 2,000 black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) individuals originating from a wide geographical range (44–60ºN). Annual phenological events and 12 leaf-based functional trait measurements were collected spanning the entire summer season prior to, and following, bud set. Patterns of seasonal trait change emerged by synchronizing trees using their date of bud set. In particular, photosynthetic, mass, and N-based traits increased substantially following bud set. Most traits were significantly different between pre-bud set and post-bud set phase trees, with many traits showing at least 25 % alteration in mean value. Post-bud set, both the significance and direction of trait–trait relationships could be modified, with many relating directly to changes in leaf mass. In Populus, these dynamics in leaf traits throughout the summer season reflected a shift in whole plant physiology, but occurred long before the onset of leaf senescence. The marked shifts in measured trait values following bud set underscores the necessity to include phenology in trait-based ecological studies or large-scale phenotyping efforts, both at the local level and larger geographical scale.


Bud set Carbon flux Ecophysiology Gas exchange Populus 



The authors are thankful for assistance from L. Muenter, E. Moreno, L. Liao, and for helpful discussion from L. Kalcsits and R. Soolanayakanahally. This work was supported by Applied Genomics Innovation Program of Genome BC and NSERC Discovery grant to R. D. G.

Supplementary material

442_2012_2531_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 4357 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Athena D. McKown
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robert D. Guy
    • 1
  • M. Shofiul Azam
    • 1
  • Eric C. Drewes
    • 1
  • Linda K. Quamme
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Forest Sciences, Faculty of ForestryUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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