The control of vegetative phenology in tropical trees is not well understood. In dry forest trees, leaf abscission may be enhanced by advanced leaf age, increasing water stress, or declining photoperiod. Normally, it is impossible to dissect the effects of each of these variables because most leaves are shed during the early dry season when day length is near its minimum and leaves are relatively old. The 1997 El-Niño Southern Oscillation caused a ten-week long, severe abnormal drought from June to August in the semi-deciduous forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We monitored the effect of this drought on phenology and water status of trees with young leaves and compared modifications of phenology in trees of different functional types with the pattern observed during the regular dry season. Although deciduous trees at dry sites were severely water stressed (ΨSTEM < −7MPa) and their mesic leaves remained wilted for more than two months, these and all other trees retained all leaves during the abnormal drought. Many trees exchanged leaves three to four months earlier than normal during the wet period after the abnormal drought and shed leaves again during the regular dry season. Irrigation and an exceptional 70 mm rainfall during the mid-dry season 1998/1999 caused bud break and flushing in all leafless trees except dormant stem succulents. The complex interactions between leaf age and water stress, the principal determinants of leaf abscission, were found to vary widely among trees of different functional types.
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Vol. 34 • No. 1