Increasing temperatures over an 18-year period shortens growing season length in a beech (Fagus sylvatica L.)-dominated forest

Using long-term measurements in a mature beech (Fagus sylvatica L.)-dominated forest located in east Belgium, this paper showed that spring and autumn temperature increases during the last two decades led to an earlier end and a shortening of the growing season. These phenological shifts impact negatively but not significantly the forest annual net ecosystem productivity.

Context The mechanisms controlling temperate forest phenology are not fully understood nor are the impacts of climate change and the consequences for forest productivity.
Aims The aim of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of how temperate forest phenology and net ecosystem productivity (NEP) interplay and respond to temperature and its evolution.
Methods Indicators of leaf phenology and productivity dynamics at the start and the end of the growing season, as well as combinations of these indicators (length of the growing season), were derived from a long-term (1997–2014) dataset of eddy covariance and light transmission measurements taken over a mature beech-dominated temperate forest.
Results The start and the end of the growing season were correlated to spring (and autumn, for the end) temperatures. Despite no trends in annual average temperatures being detected during the observation period, April and November temperatures significantly increased. As a result, an earlier but slower start and an earlier end, inducing a shorter length of the growing season, were observed over the studied period. The first shift positively impacts the mixed forest NEP but is mainly related to the presence of conifers in the subplot. The earlier end of the growing season, more related to beech phenology, negatively impacts the forest NEP. Overall, these two effects partially compensate each other, leading to a non-significant impact on NEP.
Conclusion Increasing temperatures over the 18-year studied period shortened the growing season length, without affecting significantly the mixed forest NEP. However, as beeches are only affected by the earlier end of the growing season, this suggests a phenologically driven beech productivity reduction in the forest.

Net ecosystem productivity, Fagus sylvatica L., Climate change, Phenological indicators

Hurdebise, Q., Aubinet, M., Heinesch, B. et al. Annals of Forest Science (2019) 76: 75.

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Data availability
The datasets analyzed during the current study are available on the FLUXNET repository (De Ligne et al. 1996-2014) at except the PAR data which are available on Mendeley data repository (Hurdebise et al. 2019) at

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