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Tritrophic phenological match-mismatch in space and time

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Malcolm D Burgess
  • Ken W Smith
  • Karl L Evans
  • Dave Leech
  • James W Pearce-Higgins
  • Claire J Branston
  • Kevin Briggs
  • John R Clark
  • Chris R du Feu
  • Kate Lewthwaite
  • Ruedi G Nager
  • Ben C Sheldon
  • Jeremy A Smith
  • Robin C Whytock
  • Stephen G Willis
  • Albert B Phillimore

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Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Ecology & Evolution
Early online date23 Apr 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Apr 2018


Increasing temperatures associated with climate change may generate phenological mismatches that disrupt previously synchronous trophic interactions. Most work on mismatch has focused on temporal trends, whereas spatial variation in the degree of trophic synchrony has largely been neglected, even though the degree to which mismatch varies in space has implications for meso-scale population dynamics and evolution. Here we quantify latitudinal trends in phenological mismatch, using phenological data on an oak-caterpillar-bird system from across the UK. Increasing latitude delays phenology of all species, but more so for oak, resulting in a shorter interval between leaf emergence and peak caterpillar biomass at northern locations. Asynchrony found between peak caterpillar biomass and peak nestling demand of blue tits, great tits and pied flycatchers increases in earlier (warm) springs. There is no evidence of spatial variation in the timing of peak nestling demand relative to peak caterpillar biomass for any species. Phenological mismatch alone is thus unlikely to explain spatial variation in population trends. Given projections of continued spring warming, we predict that temperate forest birds will become increasingly mismatched with peak caterpillar timing. Latitudinal invariance in the direction of mismatch may act as a double-edged sword that presents no opportunities for spatial buffering from the effects of mismatch on population size, but generates spatially consistent directional selection on timing, which could facilitate rapid evolutionary change.

    Research areas

  • Forest ecology, Phenology

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