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Int J Biometeorol. 2008 May;52(5):353-66. Epub 2007 Dec 5.

Relationships between alpha diversity of plant species in bloom and climatic variables across an elevation gradient.

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  • 1Office of Arid Land Studies, University of Arizona, 1955 E. Sixth St., Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


This study analyzes a 20-year record of flowering observations collected near Tucson, Arizona, USA. In contrast to traditional phenological records, this dataset is a record of all species observed in bloom collected in five segments of approximately 1 mile (1.61 km) in length across a 4,158-ft (1,200-m) elevation gradient. The data showed differing seasonal and interannual patterns, demonstrating the influence of climatic factors and elevation on flowering. Miles at higher elevations showed bloom peaks in summer, consistent with temperate and montane communities. Conversely, lower miles demonstrated two distinct flowering seasons, typical of the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Interannual fluctuations in total species observed in bloom were not consistent across the 5 miles (c. 8 km), suggesting that these communities respond to different flowering cues. Consistent with documented flowering triggers in semi-arid systems, the alpha diversity of species in bloom at lower elevations in this study was strongly influenced by precipitation. Upper elevation bloom numbers were heavily influenced by temperature, correspondent with bloom triggers in temperate and montane systems. In general, different life forms exhibited similar bloom triggers within the study miles, believed to be a function of shallow soils. Multivariate community analyses showed that anomalous climate conditions yielded unique seasonal bloom compositions. Over the course of the study, average summer temperature showed an upward trend; the number of species in bloom in summer (July-October) in the highest mile (1,940-2,210 m) demonstrated a concurrent increasing trend. Community analysis suggested a gradual shift in the composition of species in bloom in this mile over the study period.

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