Long-term trends mask variation in the direction and magnitude of short-term phenological shifts

Amy M. Iler, Toke T. Høye, David W. Inouye, Niels M. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Premise of the study: Plants are flowering earlier in response to climate change. However, substantial interannual variation in phenology may make it difficult to discern and compare long-term trends. In addition to providing insight on data requirements for discerning such trends, phenological shifts within subsets of long-term records will provide insight into the mechanisms driving changes in flowering over longer time scales. Methods: To examine variation in flowering shifts among temporal subsets of long-term records, we used two data sets of flowering phenology from snow-dominated habitats: subalpine meadow in Gothic, Colorado, USA (38 yr), and arctic tundra in Zackenberg, Greenland (16 yr). Shifts in flowering time were calculated as 10-yr moving averages for onset, peak, and end of flowering. Key results: Flowering advanced over the course of the entire time series at both sites. Flowering shifts at Gothic were variable, with some 10-yr time frames showing significant delays and others significant advancements. Early-flowering species were more responsive than later-flowering species, while the opposite was true at Zackenberg. Flowering shifts at Zackenberg were less variable, with advanced flowering across all 10-yr time frames. At both sites, long-term advancement seemed to be primarily driven by strong advancements in flowering in the 1990s and early 2000s. Conclusions: Analysis of long-term trends can mask substantial variation in phenological shifts through time. This variation in the direction and magnitude of phenological shifts has implications for the evolution of flowering time and for interspecific interactions with flowering plants and can provide more detailed insights into the dynamics of phenological responses to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1398-1406
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Arctic tundra
  • Climate change
  • Moving average
  • Phenology
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
  • Snowmelt
  • Subalpine
  • Subsampling
  • Variation
  • Zackenberg

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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