Leaffall phenology in a subtropical wet forest in Puerto Rico: From species to community patterns
Leaffall phenology is an important periodical event in forests, contributing to mobilization of organic matter from primary producers to soil. For seasonal forests, leaffall periodicity has been related to rainfall regime and dry season length. In weakly seasonal forests, where there is no marked dry season, other climatic factors could trigger leaf shed. In this study, we aimed to determine if other climatic variables (wind speed, solar radiation, photosynthetic photon flux density [PPFD], day length, temperature, and relative humidity) could be better correlated with patterns of litter and leaffall in a weakly seasonal subtropical wet forest in Puerto Rico. Leaffall patterns were correlated mainly with solar radiation, PPFD, day length, and temperature; and secondarily with rainfall. Two main peaks of leaffall were observed: April-June and August-September, coinciding with the periods of major solar radiation at this latitude. Community leaffall patterns were the result of overlapping peaks of individual species. Of the 32 species analyzed, 21 showed phenological patterns, either unimodal (16 species), bimodal (three species), or multimodal (two species). Lianas also presented leaffall seasonality, suggesting that they are subject to the same constraints and triggering factors affecting trees. In addition to solar radiation as a main determinant of leaffall timing in tropical forests, our findings highlight the importance of interannual variation and asynchrony, suggesting that leaffall is the result of a complex interaction between environmental and physiological factors.