, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 273-286
Date: 05 Mar 2009

Risk of spring frost to apple production under future climate scenarios: the role of phenological acclimation

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In the context of global warming, the general trend towards earlier flowering dates of many temperate tree species is likely to result in an increased risk of damage from exposure to frost. To test this hypothesis, a phenological model of apple flowering was applied to a temperature series from two locations in an important area for apple production in Europe (Trentino, Italy). Two simulated 50-year climatic projections (A2 and B2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Special Report on Emission Scenarios) from the HadCM3 general circulation model were statistically downscaled to the two sites. Hourly temperature records over a 40-year period were used as the reference for past climate. In the phenological model, the heat requirement (degree hours) for flowering was parameterized using two approaches; static (constant over time) and dynamic (climate dependent). Parameterisation took into account the trees’ adaptation to changing temperatures based on either past instrumental records or the downscaled outputs from the climatic simulations. Flowering dates for the past 40 years and simulated flowering dates for the next 50 years were used in the model. A significant trend towards earlier flowering was clearly detected in the past. This negative trend was also apparent in the simulated data. However, the significance was less apparent when the “dynamic” setting for the degree hours requirement was used in the model. The number of frost episodes and flowering dates, on an annual basis, were graphed to assess the risk of spring frost. Risk analysis confirmed a lower risk of exposure to frost at present than in the past, and probably either constant or a slightly lower risk in future, especially given that physiological processes are expected to acclimate to higher temperatures.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00484-009-0235-2