Increasing temperatures associated with climate change may generate phenological mismatches that disrupt previously synchronous trophic interactions. Most work on mismatch has focused on temporal trends, whereas spatial variation in the degree of trophic synchrony has largely been neglected, even though the degree to which mismatch varies in space has implications for meso-scale population dynamics and evolution. Here we quantify latitudinal trends in phenological mismatch, using phenological data on an oak–caterpillar–bird system from across the UK. Increasing latitude delays phenology of all species, but more so for oak, resulting in a shorter interval between leaf emergence and peak caterpillar biomass at northern locations. Asynchrony found between peak caterpillar biomass and peak nestling demand of blue tits, great tits and pied flycatchers increases in earlier (warm) springs. There is no evidence of spatial variation in the timing of peak nestling demand relative to peak caterpillar biomass for any species. Phenological mismatch alone is thus unlikely to explain spatial variation in population trends. Given projections of continued spring warming, we predict that temperate forest birds will become increasingly mismatched with peak caterpillar timing. Latitudinal invariance in the direction of mismatch may act as a double-edged sword that presents no opportunities for spatial buffering from the effects of mismatch on population size, but generates spatially consistent directional selection on timing, which could facilitate rapid evolutionary change.
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We thank the many contributors of the UK Phenology Network and BTO Nest Record Scheme, as well as J. Hadfield for statistical advice and J. Shutt for helpful discussion. The UK Phenology Network is coordinated by the Woodland Trust. The Nest Record Scheme is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the fieldworkers themselves. A.B.P. was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council Advanced Fellowship (Ne/I020598/1).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Burgess, M.D., Smith, K.W., Evans, K.L. et al. Tritrophic phenological match–mismatch in space and time. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 970–975 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0543-1
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