Climate change, phenology, and phenological control of vegetation feedbacks to the climate system

Andrew D. Richardson*, Trevor F. Keenan, Mirco Migliavacca, Youngryel Ryu, Oliver Sonnentag, Michael Toomey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

867 Citations (Scopus)


Vegetation phenology is highly sensitive to climate change. Phenology also controls many feedbacks of vegetation to the climate system by influencing the seasonality of albedo, surface roughness length, canopy conductance, and fluxes of water, energy, CO2 and biogenic volatile organic compounds. In this review, we first discuss the environmental drivers of phenology, and the impacts of climate change on phenology, in different biomes. We then examine the vegetation-climate feedbacks that are mediated by phenology, and assess the potential impact on these feedbacks of shifts in phenology driven by climate change. We finish with an overview of phenological modeling and we suggest ways in which models might be improved using existing data sets. Several key weaknesses in our current understanding emerge from this analysis. First, we need a better understanding of the drivers of phenology, particularly in under-studied biomes (e.g. tropical forests). We do not have a mechanistic understanding of the role of photoperiod, even in well-studied biomes. In all biomes, the factors controlling senescence and dormancy are not well-documented. Second, for the most part (i.e. with the exception of phenology impacts on CO2 exchange) we have only a qualitative understanding of the feedbacks between vegetation and climate that are mediated by phenology. We need to quantify the magnitude of these feedbacks, and ensure that they are accurately reproduced by models. Third, we need to work towards a new understanding of phenological processes that enables progress beyond the modeling paradigms currently in use. Accurate representation of phenological processes in models that couple the land surface to the climate system is particularly important, especially when such models are being used to predict future climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-173
Number of pages18
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2013


  • Autumn senescence
  • Biosphere-atmosphere interactions
  • Budburst
  • Carbon cycle
  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Models
  • Phenology
  • Seasonality
  • Spring onset

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