Modeling phenological controls on carbon dynamics in dryland sagebrush ecosystems

Katherine M. Renwick, Aaron Fellows, Gerald N. Flerchinger, Kathleen A. Lohse, Patrick E. Clark, William K. Smith, Kristen Emmett, Benjamin Poulter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Dryland ecosystems play an important role in determining how precipitation anomalies affect terrestrial carbon fluxes at regional to global scales. Thus, to understand how climate change may affect the global carbon cycle, we must also be able to understand and model its effects on dryland vegetation. Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs) are an important tool for modeling ecosystem dynamics, but they often struggle to reproduce seasonal patterns of plant productivity. Because the phenological niche of many plant species is linked to both total productivity and competitive interactions with other plants, errors in how process-based models represent phenology hinder our ability to predict climate change impacts. This may be particularly problematic in dryland ecosystems where many species have developed a complex phenology in response to seasonal variability in both moisture and temperature. Here, we examine how uncertainty in key parameters as well as the structure of existing phenology routines affect the ability of a DGVM to match seasonal patterns of leaf area index (LAI) and gross primary productivity (GPP) across a temperature and precipitation gradient. First, we optimized model parameters using a combination of site-level eddy covariance data and remotely-sensed LAI data. Second, we modified the model to include a semi-deciduous phenology type and added flexibility to the representation of grass phenology. While optimizing parameters reduced model bias, the largest gains in model performance were associated with the development of our new representation of phenology. This modified model was able to better capture seasonal patterns of both leaf area index (R2 = 0.75) and gross primary productivity (R2 = 0.84), though its ability to estimate total annual GPP depended on using eddy covariance data for optimization. The new model also resulted in a more realistic outcome of modeled competition between grass and shrubs. These findings demonstrate the importance of improving how DGVMs represent phenology in order to accurately forecast climate change impacts in dryland ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-94
Number of pages10
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Aug 15 2019


  • Ecosystem model
  • Eddy covariance
  • Parameter optimization
  • Phenology
  • Sagebrush

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Modeling phenological controls on carbon dynamics in dryland sagebrush ecosystems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this