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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Sep 7;275(1646):2005-13. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0463.

Warming, plant phenology and the spatial dimension of trophic mismatch for large herbivores.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Penn State University, 208 Mueller Lab, University Park, PA 16802, USA. esp10@psu.edu


Temporal advancement of resource availability by warming in seasonal environments can reduce reproductive success of vertebrates if their own reproductive phenology does not also advance with warming. Indirect evidence from large-scale analyses suggests, however, that migratory vertebrates might compensate for this by tracking phenological variation across landscapes. Results from our two-year warming experiment combined with seven years of observations of plant phenology and offspring production by caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Greenland, however, contradict evidence from large-scale analyses. At spatial scales relevant to the foraging horizon of individual herbivores, spatial variability in plant phenology was reduced--not increased--by both experimental and observed warming. Concurrently, offspring production by female caribou declined with reductions in spatial variability in plant phenology. By highlighting the spatial dimension of trophic mismatch, these results reveal heretofore unexpected adverse consequences of climatic warming for herbivore population ecology.

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