, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 921-932

Effects of recent warm and cold spells on European plant phenology

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Abstract

Climate change is already altering the magnitude and/or frequency of extreme events which will in turn affect plant fitness more than any change in the average. Although the fingerprint of anthropogenic warming in recent phenological records is well understood, the impacts of extreme events have been largely neglected. Thus, the temperature response of European phenological records to warm and cold spells was studied using the COST725 database. We restricted our analysis to the period 1951–2004 due to better spatial coverage. Warm and cold spells were identified using monthly mean ENSEMBLES temperature data on a 0.5° grid for Europe. Their phenological impact was assessed as anomalies from maps displaying mean onsets for 1930–1939. Our results clearly exhibit continental cold spells predominating in the period 1951–1988, especially during the growing season, whereas the period from 1989 onwards was mainly characterised by warm spells in all seasons. The impacts of these warm/cold spells on the onset of phenological seasons differed strongly depending on species, phase and timing. “False” phases such as the sowing of winter cereals hardly reacted to summer warm/cold spells; only the sowing of summer cereals mirrored spring temperature warm/cold spells. The heading dates of winter cereals did not reveal any consistent results probably due to fewer warm/cold spells identified in the relevant late spring months. Apple flowering and the harvest of winter cereals were the best indicators of warm/cold spells in early spring and summer, also being spatially coherent with the patterns of warm/cold spells.