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Canopy damage by spring frost in European beech along the Apennines: effect of latitude, altitude and aspect

Allevato, Emilia, Saulino, Luigi, Cesarano, Gaspare, Chirico, Giovanni Battista, D'Urso, Guido, Falanga Bolognesi, Salvatore, Rita, Angelo, Rossi, Sergio, Saracino, Antonio, Bonanomi, Giuliano
Remote sensing of environment 2019 v.225 pp. 431-440
Fagus sylvatica subsp. sylvatica, Landsat, altitude, canopy, climate change, flowering, forest ecosystems, forests, frost, frost injury, geographical distribution, heat sums, latitude, leaves, normalized difference vegetation index, phenology, prediction, remote sensing, risk, spring, temperature, trees, Central European region, Italy
Late spring frost plays a major role in the structure and function of forest ecosystems with potential consequences on species distribution at both local and regional scales. Paradoxically, in a warmer world the incidence and impact of frost is increasing because of earlier leaf unfolding and flowering as a response to warmer temperatures. In this regard, European Beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), a native tree species widely distributed in European forests, is considered particularly sensitive to changes in spring temperature regimes associated with climate change and thus especially subject to the risk of frost damage. Although several studies concerning F. sylvatica frost damage have been conducted in northern and central Europe, no extensive studies are available for the southern part of its range, i.e. central and southern Italy as well as Greece.In this paper the effect of a late spring frost occurring at the end of April 2016 is extensively documented with high spatial detail all along the Apennine Chain through satellite image data. Three different remote-sensing greenness indexes, namely the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), enhanced vegetation index (EVI), and the greenness index (GI) derived from Landsat-8 satellite images acquired from May to July in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 at a spatial resolution of 30 m, were used to gauge the spatial response of common beech forests to this late frost event with relation to latitude, altitude and slope exposure. Frost damage was evaluated as a difference (Δ) of NDVI, GI and EVI between the mean of years 2014 and 2015 (i.e. MRY, mean of reference years), and 2016 (i.e. FEY, frost reference year). The three satellite remote-sensing indexes were efficient at detecting leaf damage with detailed spatial resolution and proved consistent with one another.The greatest damage occurred in the middle altitudinal range between 1500 and 1700 m a.s.l. with a decreasing trend toward both lower and higher elevations due to warmer temperatures below, and delayed phenology above. Exposure also influenced frost injury, with south-facing slopes of the mountain more damaged than the north. This difference was due to earlier spring leaf phenology of southern beech trees in response to a greater heat sum in the warm weeks preceding. Less damage in the northern Apennines is consistent with the spatial extent of minimum freezing temperatures. To sum up, frost damage is strongly related to site-specific conditions, i.e. on the one hand to minimum temperatures, and on the other to the phenological stage of the trees involving both altitude and exposure. Hence focusing on detailed sub-regional studies can be helpful for predicting future consequences of climate change on forests.