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In Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America

Climate warming is driving an advance of leaf unfolding date in temperate deciduous forests, promoting longer growing seasons and higher carbon gains. However, an earlier leaf phenology also increases the risk of late frost defoliation (LFD) events. Compiling the spatio-temporal patterns of defoliations caused by spring frost events is critical to unveil whether the balance between the current advance in leaf unfolding dates and the frequency of LFD occurrence is changing and represents a threaten for the future viability and persistence of deciduous forests. We combined satellite imagery with machine learning techniques to reconstruct the spatio-temporal patterns of LFD events for the 2003-2018 period in the Iberian range of European beech (Fagus sylvatica), at the drier distribution edge of the species. We used MODIS Vegetation Index Products to generate a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) time series for each 250 x 250 m pixel in a total area of 1,013 km2 (16,218 pixels). A semi-supervised approach was used to train a machine learning model, in which a binary classifier called Support Vector Machine with Global Alignment Kernel was used to differentiate between late frost and non-late frost pixels. We verified the obtained estimates with photointerpretation and existing beech tree-ring chronologies to iteratively improve the model. Then, we used the model output to identify topographical and climatic factors that determined the spatial incidence of LFD. During the study period, LFD was a low recurrence phenomenon that occurred every 15.2 years on average and showed high spatio-temporal heterogeneity. Most LFD events were condensed in five years and clustered in western forests (86.5% in one fifth of the pixels) located at high elevation with lower than average precipitation. Elevation and longitude were the major LFD risk factors, followed by annual precipitation. The synergistic effects of increasing drought intensity and rising temperature combined with more frequent late frost events may determine the future performance and distribution of beech forests. This interaction might be critical at the beech drier range edge, where the concentration of LFD at high elevations could constrain beech altitudinal shifts and/or favor species with higher resistance to late frosts.

Olano José M, García-Cervigón Ana I, Sangüesa-Barreda Gabriel, Rozas Vicente, Muñoz-Garachana Diego, García-Hidalgo Miguel, García-Pedrero Ángel


\nFagus sylvatica\n, Climate warming, MODIS, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), extreme climate events, late spring frost defoliation