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Ecology. 2010 Feb;91(2):431-40.

Flowering phenology in subalpine meadows: does climate variation influence community co-flowering patterns?

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, 25 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G5, Canada.


Climate change is expected to alter patterns of species co-occurrence, in both space and time. Species-specific shifts in reproductive phenology may alter the assemblages of plant species in flower at any given time during the growing season. Temporal overlap in the flowering periods (co-flowering) of animal-pollinated species may influence reproductive success if competitive or facilitative interactions between plant species affect pollinator services. We used a 33-year data set on flowering phenology in subalpine meadows in Colorado, USA, to determine whether interannual variation in snowmelt date, which marks the start of the growing season, affected co-flowering patterns. For two of four species considered, we found a significant relationship between snowmelt timing and composition of the assemblage of co-flowering plants. In years of early snowmelt, Lathyrus lanszwertii var. leucanthus (Fabaceae), the species we investigated in most detail, tended to overlap with earlier-flowering species and with fewer species overall. In particular, overlap with the flowering period of Lupinus polyphyllus var. prunophilus, with which Lathyrus leucanthus shares pollinators, was significantly reduced in early-snowmelt years. The observed association between timing of snowmelt and patterns of flowering overlap could not have been predicted simply by examining temporal trends in the dates of peak flowering of the dominant species in the community, as peak flowering dates have largely shifted in parallel with respect to snowmelt date. However, subtle interspecific differences in responsiveness of flowering time, duration, and intensity to interannual climate variation have likely contributed to the observed relationship. Although much of the year-to-year variation in flowering overlap remains unexplained by snowmelt date, our finding of a measurable signal of climate variation suggests that future climate change may lead to altered competitive environments for these wildflower species.

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