Patricia Morellato

São Paulo State University (Unesp)
Department of Botany

Dr Morellato main research focus is on the phenology and seasonal changes of natural vegetation. She has investigated the patterns of plant reproduction, pollination and seed dispersal, the influence of phylogeny on phenology and methods in phenology research. More recently, Dr Morellato research has focused on the effects of environmental and climatic changes on plant phenology. She participated as a contributing author in the Working Group II (WGII) of the fourth IPCC report, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2007.

Research Interest

My interest in environmental research is connected to the understanding of plant phenology. Phenology, the study of natural recurring phenomena and its relation to climate, is a traditional science of observe the cycles of plants and animals and relate mainly to local meteorological data. Recently, phenology has gained importance as the simplest and most reliable indicator of the effects of climate change on plants and animals (Walther et al. 2002, Parmesan and Yohe 2003, Walther 2004, Rosenzweig et al. 2008). The strongest results connecting changes on timing of first flowering and leafing to recent global warming have come from North Hemisphere, based on the analyses of long term phenological meteorological data sets (Menzel et al. 2006, Penuelas 2009).

The e-phenology is a multidisciplinary project proposal combining research in Computer Science and Phenology. Its goal is to attack theoretical and practical problems involving the use of new technologies for remote phenological observation (digital cameras) aiming to detect local environmental changes. It is geared towards three objectives: (a) use of new technologies of environmental monitoring based on remote phenology monitoring systems; (b) creation of a protocol for a Brazilian long term phenology monitoring program and for the integration across disciplines, advancing our knowledge of seasonal responses within tropics to climate change; and (c) provide models, methods and algorithms to support management, integration and analysis of data of remote phenology systems.

Current practices, methods, research questions

Regarding our current practices, methods and research, the Phenology Laboratory (UNESP) traditionally has looked for trends and shifts on tropical vegetation phenology, the relationship to environmental (climate), as well as biotic (pollination and seed dispersal) factors and phylogeny. We also have explored different methods for collecting and analyzing phenology data (eg Morellato et al. 2000, 2010a, 2010b). The phenological studies have been developed based on direct, weekly to monthly observation of marked plants of different natural vegetations from Brazil, including Atlantic Rain Forest, Seasonal Forest and Cerrado Savanna (Morellato 2003). In the last years our questions focused mainly on the effects of natural and man induced changes on vegetation and climate in the phenology of tropical plants (Alberti and Morellato 2008, Morellato 2008, Pinto and Morellato 2010, Camargo et al. 2010). We have established three long term monitoring programs on Southeastern Brazil from year 2000 onwards: trees from an urban garden, seasonal forest trees, and savanna cerrado woody vegetation, all based on direct observation of plants. We have collected some discontinuous data from Atlantic rain forest trees ranging from 5 to 8 years long. The Laboratory of Phenology collaborates with the longest tropical wet forest phenology monitoring system in Brazilian Central Amazon (Pinto and Morellato 2010).

Part of the research will be conducted at RECOD (Reasoning for Complex Data) Lab, at Institute of Computing, University of Campinas UNICAMP, under the supervision of Dr Ricardo Torres. The RECOD Lab was created in December of 2009 aiming to embrace the research subjects of machine learning, multimedia retrieval and classification, multimodality and digital forensics. We plan to conduct research on data mining and image processing at this lab.

Opportunities to apply technologies

Environmental changes have emerged as an important question in the global agenda. In order to support the design of policies for environmental management and ecosystem balance, it is necessary to get an accurate view of existing conditions, and to understand the complex changes that occur at all levels in the planet (Torres et al. 2006). One essential step toward creating appropriate scenarios is to collect relevant data about the environment and to develop information systems to manage and derive knowledge from these data. These systems must furthermore combine newly gathered data with historical and legacy information (e.g., from distinct kinds of archives), through unified management. Therefore, scientists concerned with environmental issues must seek support from a large set of systems. This, of course, brings about all kinds of interoperability problems due to system mismatch, data diversity, and variety of user profiles (Torres et al. 2006)..

One representative example of such problems appears in the context of Phenology studies. We intent to focus on the three points: (i) to integrate phenology to new technologies of environmental monitoring and remote phenology monitoring systems with digital cameras, increasing our accuracy on define the relationship between phenology, local environment and general climate changes; (ii) to create a protocol for a Brazilian long term phenology monitoring program and the integration across disciplines, advancing our knowledge of seasonal responses within tropics to climate change; and (iii) to specify and implement algorithms aiming to support management, integration and analysis of data of remote phenology monitoring systems.

Expected results and future developments

From end user’s view point (phenology experts and environmental researchers) the present project expects: (i) to establish a remote monitoring system using digital cameras (remote phenology) and a complete gsm meteorological station (remote phenology tower) in the cerrado. We have an ongoing project supported by FAPESP addressing the phenology of that cerrado area, and a long-term phenology data base and continuous direct observation that can be used to validate the remote phenology information. The great challenge is to build a remote phenology tower suited for tracking tropical remote phenology and adapted to our environmental conditions. Our phenology tower will integrate environmental sensors to digital cameras to track phenology what is a great new development in Brazil. The data will be validated by our continuous ground observation on plant phenology. The use of webcams is growing all over the world and its potential to track annual changes on phenology has been widely recognized in the Northern hemisphere (http://klima., Richardson et al. 2007).

From the computer science point of view, research results involve models, tools and techniques concerning: (a) image processing, to extract and index content descriptors associated to different kinds of vegetation; (b) database issues, concentrating on scientific data management, including data mining and fusion, time series processing, and data annotation; (c) models and methodologies for climate change analysis based on the exploration of new indices to assess phenology changes.

As for the future, we intent to disseminate, among the scientific community, new ways of associating remote phenological observations with local environmental changes. Our experience in working with scientists that conduct research on Phenology issues shows that while they are able to conduct very sophisticated data collection and simulation experiments, they need better support in terms of database management, and flexible tools. In special, they have not explored the potential of data mining algorithms applied to spatiotemporal data.

We also seek to build up a network of towers that would allow integrating data and understand shifts on phenology related to climate changes at local and regional scale. We hope, in the future, integrate all data to remote sensing information, and to establish phenology towers across different vegetation types.


Alberti, L. F. and L. P. C. Morellato. 2008. Influência da abertura de trilhas antrópicas e clareiras naturais na fenologia reprodutiva de Gymnanthes concolor (Spreng.) Müll. Arg. (Euphorbiaceae). Revista Brasileira de Botânica 31:53-59.

Camargo, M. G. G., Souza, R. M., Reys, P. and Morellato, L. P. C. 2010. Effects of environmental conditions associated to the cardinal orientation on the reproductive phenology of the cerrado savanna tree Xylopia aromatica (Annonaceae). Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 82:

Menzel, A., T. H. Sparks, N. Estrella, E. Koch, A. Aasa, R. Ahas, K. Alm-Kubler, P. Bissolli, O. Braslavska, A.

Briede, F. M. Chmielewski, Z. Crepinsek, Y. Curnel, A. Dahl, C. Defila, A. Donnelly, Y. Filella, K. Jatcza, F.

Mage, A. Mestre, O. Nordli, J. Penuelas, P. Pirinen, V. Remisova, H. Scheifinger, M. Striz, A. Susnik, A. J. H.

Van Vliet, F. E. Wielgolaski, S. Zach, and A. Zust. 2006. European phenological response to climate change matches the warming pattern. Global Change Biology 12:1969-1976.

Morellato, L. P. C. 2003. South M. D. Schwartz, editor. Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science. Kluwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands.

Morellato, L.P.C. 2008. Fenologia de plantas e os efeitos das mudanças climáticas. In: Biologia e as Mudanças Climáticas Globais (Buckeridge, M. org.). MCT e Edusp, São Paulo.

Morellato, L. P. C., D. C. Talora, A. Takahasi, C. C. Bencke, E. C. Romera, and V. B. Zipparro. 2000. Phenology of Atlantic rain forest trees: A comparative study. Biotropica 32:811-823.

Morellato, L. P. C. ; Camargo, M. G. G. ; D’eça Neves, F. F. ; Luize, B. G. ; Mantovani, A. and Hudson, I. L. 2010a. The influence of sampling method, sample size, and frequency of observations on plant phenological patterns and interpretation in tropical forest trees. In: Keatley, M. ; Hudson. I. L. (Org.). Phenological Research: Methods for Environmental and Climate Change Analysis. 1 ed. : Springer, v. , p. 108-128.

Morellato, L. P. C. ; Alberti, L. F. and Hudson, I. L. 2010b. Applications of circular statistics in plant phenology: a case studies approach. In: Keatley, M.; Hudson, I. L. (Org.). Phenological Research: Methods for Environmental and Climate Change Analysis. 1 ed. : Springer, v. , p. 357-371.

Parmesan, C. and Yohe, G. 2003. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421:37-42.

Penuelas, J., Rutishauser, T. and Filella, I. 2009. Phenology Feedbacks on Climate Change. Science 324:887-888.

Pinto, A. M. and Morellato, L. P. C. 2010. The INPA Long-Term Phenology Project Monitoring Amazon Forest Trees: Tracking the Effects of Climate Changes on Tree Phenology. In: Hudson, I.L. & Keatley, M.R.. (Org.). Phenological Research: Methods for Environmental and Climate Change Analysis. 1 ed. Dordrecht: Springer, p. 43-45.

Rosenzweig, C., D. Karoly, M. Vicarelli, P. Neofotis, Q. Wu, G. Casassa, A. Menzel, T. L. Root, N. Estrella, B. Seguin, P. Tryjanowski, C. Liu, S. Rawlins, and A. Imeson. 2008. Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature 453:353-357.

Richardson, A.D., J.P. Jenkins, B.H. Braswell, D.Y. Hollinger, S.V. Ollinger, and M.-L. Smith. 2007. Use of digital webcam images to track spring green-up in a deciduous broadleaf forest. Oecologia, 152: 323-334

Torres, R. da S. ; Medeiros, C. B. ; Gonçalves, M. A. ; Fox, E. A. . A Digital Library Framework for Biodiversity Information Systems. International Journal on Digital Libraries, Berlin, v. 6, p. 3-17, 2006.

Walther, G. R. 2004. Plants in a warmer world. Perspectives in Plant Ecology Evolution and Systematics 6:169-185.

Walther, G. R., E. Post, P. Convey, A. Menzel, C. Parmesan, T. J. C. Beebee, J. M. Fromentin, O. Hoegh- Guldberg, and F. Bairlein. 2002. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416:389-395.