Ecology

It's All in the Timing

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Science  18 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6181, pp. 236
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6181.236-a
CREDIT: MARTHA INOUYE

Phenology is the timing of biological events, such as the time of year when flowers bloom. Because phenology is dependent on environmental cues, including temperature, how it is affected by climate change is unclear. Understanding this connection is challenging, however, due to natural variation in events such as flowering time. CaraDonna et al. report on the results of a 39-year effort to record a suite of ecological data, such as first, peak, and last flowering dates, within an alpine meadow community in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Over the time span of the experiment, data were collected on 60 plant species, largely every other day during the growing season. Although there was a general trend toward earlier flowering dates and a longer growing season, individual species' responses were distinct, and changes within a species in first, peak, and last flowering dates shifted independently of one other. These results suggest that first flowering date, the most commonly collected phenological metric in plants, is not necessarily an accurate estimator of total responses to a changing climate. Furthermore, changes in coflowering patterns were observed, which indicates that even small changes in timing could alter alpine plant communities.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 111, 10.1073/pnas.1323073111 (2014).

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