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Warming shortens flowering seasons of tundra plant communities



Advancing phenology is one of the most visible effects of climate change on plant communities, and has been especially pronounced in temperature-limited tundra ecosystems. However, phenological responses have been shown to differ greatly between species, with some species shifting phenology more than others. We analysed a database of 42,689 tundra plant phenological observations to show that warmer temperatures are leading to a contraction of community-level flowering seasons in tundra ecosystems due to a greater advancement in the flowering times of late-flowering species than early-flowering species. Shorter flowering seasons with a changing climate have the potential to alter trophic interactions in tundra ecosystems. Interestingly, these findings differ from those of warmer ecosystems, where early-flowering species have been found to be more sensitive to temperature change, suggesting that community-level phenological responses to warming can vary greatly between biomes.

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Change history

  • 07 March 2019

    In the version of this Article originally published, the following sentence was missing from the Acknowledgements: “This work was supported by the Norwegian Research Council SnoEco project, grant number 230970”. This text has now been added.


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We are grateful to the many individuals who established experiments and collected detailed phenological observations. There are too many to name them all; however, we especially thank: M. Dalle Fratte, D. Cooley, O. Durey, C. Eckert, J. F. Johnstone, C. Kennedy, V. Lamarre, G. Levasseur, C. Spiech, J. Svoboda and R. Wising; the Herschel Island Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park staff, including E. McLeod, S. McLeod, R. Joe, P. Lennie, D. Arey, L. Meyook, J. McLeod, P. Foisy, C. Gordon, J. Hansen, A. Rufus and R. Gordon; Quttinirpaaq National Park staff; the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring team; and Warming and species Removal in Mountains (WaRM) coordinators N. Sanders, A. Classen and M. Sundqvist. These observations were made possible with the support of many funding agencies and grants, including: ArcticNet; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; the Canadian International Polar Year Program; the Polar Continental Shelf Program of Natural Resources Canada; the Danish Environmental Protection Agency; the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research; the National Geographic Society; the US National Science Foundation (grant numbers PLR1525636, PLR1504141, PLR1433063, PLR1107381, PLR0119279, PLR0902125, PLR0856728, PLR1312402, PLR1019324, LTER 1026415, OPP1525636, OPP9907185, DEB1637686, 0856710, 9714103, 0632263, 0856516, 1432277, 1432982, 1504381, 1504224, 1433063, 0856728, 0612534, 0119279 and 9421755; the Danish National Research Foundation (grant CENPERM DNRF100); the Danish Council for Independent Research (Natural Sciences grant DFF 4181-00565); the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant: RU 1536/3-1); the Natural Environment Research Council (grant NE/M016323/1); the Department of Energy (grant SC006982); a Semper Ardens grant from the Carlsberg Foundation to N. J. Sanders; and an INTERACT Transnational Access grant. This work was supported by the Norwegian Research Council SnoEco project, grant number 230970.

Author information

J.S.P. and C.R. designed and led the study. J.S.P. and C.R. led the collection of data for the phenology database. J.S.P., N.R., A.D.B., I.H.M.-S. and S.C.E. performed the statistical analyses. J.S.P., C.R., N.R., T.T.H., A.D.B., I.H.M.-S. and S.C.E. drafted the paper. J.S.P., C.R., A.D.B., I.H.M.-S., I.W.A., N.C., K.C., C.C., E.J.C., B.E., A.M.F., G.H.R.H., R.D.H., I.S.J., K.K., C.W.K., E.L., M.M., U.M., S.N., S.O., Z.A.P., E.P., S.B.R., N.M.S., E.S., P.R.S., J.G.S., K.N.S., Ø.T., T.T., S.V., C.-H.W., J.M.W. and S.W. contributed data. All authors were involved in writing and editing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Janet S. Prevéy.

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Fig. 1: Conceptual diagram showing how warmer summer temperatures may shorten the length of the flowering season in tundra ecosystems.
Fig. 2: Map of long-term observational and experimental warming studies.
Fig. 3: Temperature sensitivity of FFDs was greater for late- versus early-flowering species.
Fig. 4: The change in FFDs in response to experimental warming was greater for late- versus early-flowering species.
Fig. 5: Warming was related to the change in the duration of the flowering season over time at sites across the tundra biome.