Predicting a change in the order of spring phenology in temperate forests

Adrian Roberts, Christine Tansey, Richard Smithers, Ally Phillimore*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The rise in spring temperatures over the past half-century has led to advances in the phenology of many nontropical plants and animals. As species and populations differ in their phenological responses to temperature, an increase in temperatures has the potential to alter timing-dependent species interactions. One species-interaction that may be affected is the competition for light in deciduous forests, where early vernal species have a narrow window of opportunity for growth before late spring species cast shade. Here we consider the Marsham phenology time series of first leafing dates of thirteen tree species and flowering dates of one ground flora species, which spans two centuries. The exceptional length of this time series permits a rare comparison of the statistical support for parameter-rich regression and mechanistic thermal sensitivity phenology models. While mechanistic models perform best in the majority of cases, both they and the regression models provide remarkably consistent insights into the relative sensitivity of each species to forcing and chilling effects. All species are sensitive to spring forcing, but we also find that vernal and northern European species are responsive to cold temperatures in the previous autumn. Whether this sensitivity reflects a chilling requirement or a delaying of dormancy remains to be tested. We then apply the models to projected future temperature data under a fossil fuel intensive emissions scenario and predict that while some species will advance substantially others will advance by less and may even be delayed due to a rise in autumn and winter temperatures. Considering the projected responses of all fourteen species, we anticipate a change in the order of spring events, which may lead to changes in competitive advantage for light with potential implications for the composition of temperate forests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2603-2611
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Early online date2 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Chilling
  • Climate change
  • Forcing
  • Growing degree-day
  • Phenology
  • Plasticity
  • Prediction
  • Shade
  • Species interactions


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