Differences in phenological responses to climate change among species can desynchronise ecological interactions and thereby threaten ecosystem function. To assess these threats, we must quantify the relative impact of climate change on species at different trophic levels. Here, we apply a Climate Sensitivity Profile approach to 10,003 terrestrial and aquatic phenological data sets, spatially matched to temperature and precipitation data, to quantify variation in climate sensitivity. The direction, magnitude and timing of climate sensitivity varied markedly among organisms within taxonomic and trophic groups. Despite this variability, we detected systematic variation in the direction and magnitude of phenological climate sensitivity. Secondary consumers showed consistently lower climate sensitivity than other groups. We used mid-century climate change projections to estimate that the timing of phenological events could change more for primary consumers than for species in other trophic levels (6.2 versus 2.5–2.9 days earlier on average), with substantial taxonomic variation (1.1–14.8 days earlier on average).

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This work was funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant NE/J02080X/1. We thank O. Mountford for assigning species traits for plants, H. Feuchtmayr for extracting plankton data for analysis and N. Dodd for air and water temperature data from the Tarland Burn. We also thank P. Verrier, the staff and many volunteers and contributors, including Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, to the Rothamsted Insect Survey (RIS) over the last half century. The RIS is a National Capability strategically funded by BBSRC. The consortium represented by the authorship list hold long-term data that represent a considerable investment in scientific endeavour. Whilst we are committed to sharing these data for scientific research, users are requested to collaborate before publication of these data to ensure accurate biological interpretation.

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  1. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre, Library Avenue, Bailrigg, Lancaster, Lancashire LA1 4AP, UK

    • Stephen J. Thackeray
    • , Peter A. Henrys
    • , Ian D. Jones
    • , Eleanor B. Mackay
    •  & Ian J. Winfield
  2. Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

    • Deborah Hemming
  3. Rothamsted Research, West Common, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2JQ, UK

    • James R. Bell
    •  & Richard Harrington
  4. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, UK

    • Marc S. Botham
  5. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian EH26 0QB, UK

    • Sarah Burthe
    • , Laurence Carvalho
    •  & Sarah Wanless
  6. The Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth, Devon PL1 2PB, UK

    • Pierre Helaouet
    • , David G. Johns
    •  & Martin Edwards
  7. British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK

    • David I. Leech
    • , Dario Massimino
    •  & James W. Pearce-Higgins
  8. The Woodland Trust, Kempton Way, Grantham, Lincolnshire NG31 6LL, UK

    • Sian Atkinson
  9. Futtie Park, Banchory, Aberdeen AB31 4RX, UK

    • Philip J. Bacon
  10. Butterfly Conservation, Manor Yard, East Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5QP, UK

    • Tom M. Brereton
  11. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

    • Tim H. Clutton-Brock
  12. Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Oceans Institute, East Sands, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK

    • Callan Duck
  13. The Freshwater Biological Association, The Ferry Landing, Far Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 0LP, UK

    • J. Malcolm Elliott
  14. University of Lincoln, Riseholme Hall, Riseholme Park, Lincoln, Lincolnshire LN2 2LG, UK

    • Stephen J. G. Hall
  15. Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Department of Bioscience and Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University, Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 6B, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

    • Toke T. Høye
  16. Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3FL, UK

    • Loeske E. B. Kruuk
    •  & Josephine M. Pemberton
  17. Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, ACT 2612 Australia

    • Loeske E. B. Kruuk
  18. Faculty of Engineering and Computing, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK

    • Tim H. Sparks
  19. Institute of Zoology, Poznan´ University of Life Sciences, Wojska Polskiego 71C, 60-625 Poznan´, Poland

    • Tim H. Sparks
  20. University of Aberdeen, Lighthouse Field Station, George Street, Cromarty, Ross-shire IV11 8YJ, UK

    • Paul M. Thompson
  21. People’s Trust for Endangered Species, 15 Cloisters House, 8 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4BG, UK

    • Ian White


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S.J.T. and S.W. conceived and coordinated the study and led writing of the manuscript. P.A.H. developed the analysis routine and wrote statistical code to be applied to all data sets. D.H. extracted all climatic and sea surface temperature data. I.D.J. and E.B.M. calculated water temperatures for lakes and streams, respectively. S.J.T., J.R.B., M.S.B., S.B., P.H., T.T.H., D.G.J., D.I.L., E.B.M. and D.M. led analysis of specific data sets using code from P.A.H. S.A., P.J.B., T.M.B., L.C., T.H.C.-B., C.D., M.E., J.M.E., S.J.G.H., R.H., J.W.P.-H., L.E.B.K., J.M.P., T.H.S., P.M.T., I.W. and I.J.W. derived phenological data for analysis, advised on interpretation, and assisted in assigning species traits. All co-authors commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephen J. Thackeray.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks D. Inouye, M. Visser and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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