Characterizing and forecasting the responses of tropical forest leaf phenology to El Nino by machine learning algorithms

PLoS One. 2021 Aug 26;16(8):e0255962. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0255962. eCollection 2021.


Climate change and global warming have serious adverse impacts on tropical forests. In particular, climate change may induce changes in leaf phenology. However, in tropical dry forests where tree diversity is high, species responses to climate change differ. The objective of this research is to analyze the impact of climate variability on the leaf phenology in Thailand's tropical forests. Machine learning approaches were applied to model how leaf phenology in dry dipterocarp forest in Thailand responds to climate variability and El Niño. First, we used a Self-Organizing Map (SOM) to cluster mature leaf phenology at the species level. Then, leaf phenology patterns in each group along with litterfall phenology and climate data were analyzed according to their response time. After that, a Long Short-Term Memory neural network (LSTM) was used to create model to predict leaf phenology in dry dipterocarp forest. The SOM-based clustering was able to classify 92.24% of the individual trees. The result of mapping the clustering data with lag time analysis revealed that each cluster has a different lag time depending on the timing and amount of rainfall. Incorporating the time lags improved the performance of the litterfall prediction model, reducing the average root mean square percent error (RMSPE) from 14.35% to 12.06%. This study should help researchers understand how each species responds to climate change. The litterfall prediction model will be useful for managing dry dipterocarp forest especially with regards to forest fires.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • El Nino-Southern Oscillation*
  • Forests
  • Machine Learning*
  • Plant Leaves / physiology*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena*
  • Seasons*
  • Trees / physiology*
  • Tropical Climate

Grant support

Author received award: T. Lamjiak Funder: King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi Funder URL: