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From flowering to foliage: Accelerometers track tree sway to provide high-resolution insights into tree phenology

March 24, 2022

Trees are bioindicators of global climate change and regional urbanization, but available monitoring tools are ineffective for fine-scale observation of many species. Using six accelerometers mounted on two urban ash trees (Fraxinus americana), we looked at high-frequency tree vibrations, or change in periodicity of tree sway as a proxy for mass changes, to infer seasonal patterns of flowering and foliage (phenophases). We compared accelerometer-estimated phenophases to those derived from digital repeat photography using Green Chromatic Coordinates (GCC) and visual observation of phenophases defined by the USA National Phenology Network (NPN). We also drew comparisons between two commercial accelerometers and assessed how placement height influenced the ability to extract seasonal transition dates. Most notably, tree sway data showed a greenness signal in an urban environment and produced a clear flowering time-series and peak flowering signal (PF), marking the first observations of a flower phenophase using accelerometer data. Estimated start of spring (SOS) from accelerometers and time-lapse GCC were more similar than start of autumn (SOA); accelerometers lagged behind the time-lapse camera dates by three and four days for SOS and 13 and 14 days for SOA for each tree. Estimates for SOS and SOA from accelerometers and time-lapse cameras aligned closely with different NPN phenophases. The two commercial accelerometers produced similar season onset: a difference of 2.4 to 3.8 days for SOS, 2.1 days for SOA, and 0.5 to 2.0 days for PF. Accelerometers placed at the main crown branch point versus higher in the canopy showed a difference of 0.2 to 4.9 days for SOS and -1.5 to 1.7 days for PF. Our results suggest accelerometers present a novel opportunity to objectively monitor reproductive tree biology and fill gaps in phenology observations. Furthermore, widely available accelerometers show promise for scaling up from individual trees to the landscape level to aid forest management and assessing climate change impacts to tree phenology.

Publication Year 2022
Title From flowering to foliage: Accelerometers track tree sway to provide high-resolution insights into tree phenology
DOI 10.1016/j.agrformet.2022.108900
Authors Deidre M. Jaeger, A. M. C. Looze, M. S. Raleigh, Brian W. Miller, J. M. Friedman, C. A. Wessman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Agricultural and Forest Meteorology
Index ID 70230225
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center