Characterizing the Seasonal Dynamics of Plant Community Photosynthesis Across a Range of Vegetation Types

  • Lianhong Gu
  • Wilfred M. Post
  • Dennis D. Baldocchi
  • T. Andrew Black
  • Andrew E. Suyker
  • Shashi B. Verma
  • Timo Vesala
  • Steve C. Wofsy


The seasonal cycle of plant community photosynthesis is one of the most important biotic oscillations to mankind. This study built upon previous efforts to develop a comprehensive framework to studying this cycle systematically with eddy covariance flux measurements. We proposed a new function to represent the cycle and generalized a set of phenological indices to quantify its dynamic characteristics. We suggest that the seasonal variation of plant community photosynthesis generally consists of five distinctive phases in sequence each of which results from the interaction between the inherent biological and ecological processes and the progression of climatic conditions and reflects the unique functioning of plant community at different stages of the growing season. We applied the improved methodology to seven vegetation sites ranging from evergreen and deciduous forests to crop to grasslands and covering both cool-season (vegetation active during cool months, e.g. Mediterranean climate grasslands) and warm-season (vegetation active during warm months, e.g. temperate and boreal forests) vegetation types. Our application revealed interesting phenomena that had not been reported before and pointed to new research directions. We found that for the warm-season vegetation type, the recovery of plant community photosynthesis at the beginning of the growing season was faster than the senescence at the end of the growing season while for the cool-season vegetation type, the opposite was true. Furthermore, for the warm-season vegetation type, the recovery was closely correlated with the senescence such that a faster photosynthetic recovery implied a speedier photosynthetic senescence and vice versa. There was evidence that a similar close correlation could also exist for the cool-season vegetation type, and furthermore, the recovery-senescence relationship may be invariant between the warm-season and cool-season vegetation types up to an offset in the intercept. We also found that while the growing season length affected how much carbon dioxide could be potentially assimilated by a plant community over the course of a growing season, other factors that affect canopy photosynthetic capacity (e.g. nutrients, water) could be more important at this time scale. These results and insights demonstrate that the proposed method of analysis and system of terminology can serve as a foundation for studying the dynamics of plant community photosynthesis and such studies can be fruitful.


Plant Community Vegetation Type Seasonal Cycle Leaf Area Index Grow Season Length 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Drs. Rich Norby and Asko Noormets for commenting on the paper. This study was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Program, Environmental Science Division. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, for the U.S. Department of Energy under the contract DE-AC05-00OR22725.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lianhong Gu
    • 1
  • Wilfred M. Post
    • 1
  • Dennis D. Baldocchi
    • 2
  • T. Andrew Black
    • 3
  • Andrew E. Suyker
    • 4
  • Shashi B. Verma
    • 4
  • Timo Vesala
    • 5
  • Steve C. Wofsy
    • 6
  1. 1.Environmental Sciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science, Policy and ManagementUniversity of California BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Faculty of Land and Food SystemsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  5. 5.Department of Physical SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  6. 6.Atmospheric and Environmental SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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