If I want to predict litterfall, what data do I need to collect, and what statistical model might I use?

For example, I might use the following coding to record phenological stage every other day, or perhaps once per week:

|value| description
| 0   | all leaves fallen
| 0.5 | most leaves fallen
| 1   | no more green in canopy half of leaves have fallen
| 2   | most leaves yellow or red few leaves have fallen
| 3   | noticeable reddening or yellowing, green still present
| 4   | summer condition

Once I have these data, I can also collect weather data. Now, say I want to predict the day on which each of the transitions ($4\rightarrow 3$, $3\rightarrow 2$, etc) occur.

Many studies use a temperature metric of growing degree days $GDD = (T_{max}+T_{min})/2-T_{base}$, but I have also seen chiling days and photoperiod used to predict changes in phenological stage. I would like to develop a function (statistical model) $f$ that would allow me to predict a date of state change from environemental variables, such as $$D_{4\rightarrow 3} = f(GDD)$$

My questions:

  • what controls litterfall? Is it photoperiod, temperature, other?
  • do the controls vary by species?
  • is there a "standard" approach to modelling senescence?

1 Answer 1


One can sometimes notice street lights delaying the annual shedding of leaves in some species (a well-lit branch will be mostly green while the rest of the tree is turning). So at least part of it would be day/night length in at least some species.

I would expect, however, that the answer varies based on species, genus, and/or family, and that there are probably multiple causes at work (one obvious alternate cause being temperature). Just going from memory of my personal observations, years when autumn weather patterns start earlier do tend to have trees turn and lose leaves earlier, so it's not all day/night length.

Drought is also a factor. I live in a seasonal-rainfall part of the world (US Pacific Northwest), and if summer is drier than normal (and normal is pretty dry), by mid-August many of the native deciduous trees will be starting to drop leaves. (Not all of them, but some of them, definitely more than just a few, will be turning and dropping.)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you provide some details with references (at least for some species). It looks more like a long comment as it is now. $\endgroup$
    Jan 10, 2015 at 6:53

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