Nonlinear flowering responses to climate: Are species approaching their limits of phenological change?

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Many alpine and subalpine plant species exhibit phenological advancements in association with earlier snowmelt. While the phenology of some plant species does not advance beyond a threshold snowmelt date, the prevalence of such threshold phenological responses within plant communities is largely unknown.We therefore examined the shape of flowering phenology responses (linear versus nonlinear) to climate using two long-term datasets from plant communities in snow-dominated environments: Gothic, CO, USA (1974- 2011) and Zackenberg, Greenland (1996-2011). For a total of 64 species, we determined whether a linear or nonlinear regression model best explained interannual variation in flowering phenology in response to increasing temperatures and advancing snowmelt dates. The most common nonlinear trend was for species to flower earlier as snowmelt advanced, with either no change or a slower rate of change when snowmelt was early (average 20% of cases). By contrast, some species advanced their flowering at a faster rate over the warmest temperatures relative to cooler temperatures (average 5% of cases). Thus, some species seem to be approaching their limits of phenological change in response to snowmelt but not temperature. Such phenological thresholds could either be a result of minimum springtime photoperiod cues for flowering or a slower rate of adaptive change in flowering time relative to changing climatic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1624
StatePublished - Aug 19 2013


  • Alpine
  • Arctic
  • Climate change
  • Long-term monitoring
  • Plant phenology
  • Timing of flowering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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