Climate change and flowering phenology in mid- and high-elevation species

Recent global changes, particularly warming and drought, have had worldwide repercussions on the timing of flowering events for many plant species. Phenological shifts have also been reported in alpine environments, where short growing seasons and low temperatures make reproduction particularly challenging, requiring fine-tuning to environmental cues. However, it remains unclear if species from such habitats, with their specific adaptations, harbour the same potential for phenological plasticity as species from less demanding habitats.

mcv155 snapshot Climate Change Image SIZED

Gugger et al. reciprocally transplant congeneric species pairs originating from mid and high elevations to common gardens at altitudes that mimic prospective climates and find considerable shifts in reproductive phenology, with highly advanced initiation and shortened phenophases at the lower, warmer site for both mid- and high-elevation species. Drought stress amplifies these responses. They conclude that while mid- and high-elevation species seem to adequately shift their reproductive phenology to track ongoing climate changes, those from high altitudes are less capable of doing so and are probably constrained by their specific adaptation to a cold environment with short growing seasons.

This article appears in the special issue Plants and Climate Change.