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Ecology. 2008 Feb;89(2):363-70.

Phenological sequences reveal aggregate life history response to climatic warming.

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Department of Biology, Penn State University, 208 Mueller Lab, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA.


Climatic warming is associated with organisms breeding earlier in the season than is typical for their species. In some species, however, response to warming is more complex than a simple advance in the timing of all life history events preceding reproduction. Disparities in the extent to which different components of the reproductive phenology of organisms vary with climatic warming indicate that not all life history events are equally responsive to environmental variation. Here, we propose that our understanding of phenological response to climate change can be improved by considering entire sequences of events comprising the aggregate life histories of organisms preceding reproduction. We present results of a two-year warming experiment conducted on 33 individuals of three plant species inhabiting a low-arctic site. Analysis of phenological sequences of three key events for each species revealed how the aggregate life histories preceding reproduction responded to warming, and which individual events exerted the greatest influence on aggregate life history variation. For alpine chickweed (Cerastium alpinum), warming elicited a shortening of the duration of the emergence stage by 2.5 days on average, but the aggregate life history did not differ between warmed and ambient plots. For gray willow (Salix glauca), however, all phenological events monitored occurred earlier on warmed than on ambient plots, and warming reduced the aggregate life history of this species by 22 days on average. Similarly, in dwarf birch (Betula nana), warming advanced flower bud set, blooming, and fruit set and reduced the aggregate life history by 27 days on average. Our approach provides important insight into life history responses of many organisms to climate change and other forms of environmental variation. Such insight may be compromised by considering changes in individual phenological events in isolation.

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