For obvious practical reasons, tree phenological data obtained in warming and photoperiod experiments are generally conducted on juvenile trees (saplings and seedlings) or on watered or rooted cuttings collected from adult trees. As juvenile trees differ from adult trees in their phenological response to environmental conditions, they represent inappropriate plant material to experimentally assess the phenological responses of forests to seasonality. Cuttings are physiologically closer to adult trees, but cutting itself and the disruption of hormonal signals may create artefacts. This study aimed to investigate the potential deviation between phenological responses of cuttings vs donor trees. We hypothesized that, once dormant, buds may respond autonomously to environmental influences such as chilling, photoperiod and warming, and, thus, cuttings may exhibit similar phenological responses to mature trees. We compared bud development of seedlings, saplings and mature trees of three deciduous tree species with bud development of cuttings that were excised from both saplings and adults and positioned in situ in the vicinity of adult trees within a mature mixed forest in the foothills of the Swiss Jura Mountains. No significant difference was detected in the timing of bud burst between cuttings and donor trees for the three studied tree species when the vertical thermal profile was accounted for. However, a significant difference in the timing of flushing was found between seedlings, saplings and adults, with earlier flushing during the juvenile stage. At least for the three studied species, this study clearly demonstrates that cuttings are better surrogates than juvenile trees to assess potential phenological responses of temperate forests to climate change in warming and photoperiod experiments.
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