International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 287–292 | Cite as

Impacts of global warming on phenology of spring leaf unfolding remain stable in the long run

  • Huanjiong Wang
  • This Rutishauser
  • Zexing Tao
  • Shuying Zhong
  • Quansheng GeEmail author
  • Junhu DaiEmail author
Original Paper


The impact of spring temperature forcing on the timing of leaf unfolding of plants (temperature sensitivity, ST) is one important indicator of how and to what degree plant species track climate change. Fu et al. (Nature 526:104–107, 2015) found that ST has significantly decreased from the 1980–1994 to the 1999–2013 period for seven mid-latitude tree species in Europe. However, long-term changes in ST over the past 60 years are still not clear. Here, using in situ observations of leaf unfolding for seven dominant European tree species, we analyze the temporal change in ST over decadal time scales extending the data series back to 1951. Our results demonstrate that ST shows no statistically significant change within shifting 30-year windows from 1951 to 2013 and remains stable between 1951–1980 and 1984–2013 (3.6 versus 3.7 days °C−1). This result suggests that the significant decrease in ST over the past 33 years could not be sustained when examining the trends of phenological responses in the long run. Therefore, we could not conclude that tree spring phenology advances will slow down in the future, and the ST changes in warming scenarios are still uncertain.


Phenology Leaf unfolding date Temperature sensitivity Climate change impact 



This research was supported by the National Major Scientific Instruments Development Project (No.: 41427805), National Natural Science Foundation of China (No.: 41401071), and National Basic Research Program of China (No.: 2012CB955304).

Supplementary material

484_2016_1210_MOESM1_ESM.docx (54 kb)
ESM1 (DOCX 54.3 kb)


  1. Amano T, Smithers RJ, Sparks TH, Sutherland WJ (2010) A 250-year index of first flowering dates and its response to temperature changes. P Roy Soc B-Biol Sci 277:2451–2457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aono Y, Kazui K (2008) Phenological data series of cherry tree flowering in Kyoto, Japan, and its application to reconstruction of springtime temperatures since the ninth century. Int J Climatol 28:905–914CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chuine I, Cour P, Rousseau DD (1999) Selecting models to predict the timing of flowering of temperate trees: implications for tree phenology modelling. Plant Cell Environ 22:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cook BI, Wolkovich EM, Davies TJ, Ault TR, Betancourt JL, Allen JM, et al. (2012) Sensitivity of spring phenology to warming across temporal and spatial climate gradients in two independent databases. Ecosystems 15:1283–1294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fitter AH, Fitter R (2002) Rapid changes in flowering time in British plants. Science 296:1689–1691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fu YH, Zhao H, Piao S, Peaucelle M, Peng S, Zhou G, et al. (2015) Declining global warming effects on the phenology of spring leaf unfolding. Nature 526:104–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hartmann DL, Tank AMGK, Rusticucci M, Alexander LV, Brönnimann S, Charabi Y, et al. (2013) Observations: atmosphere and surface. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner GK, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, et al. (eds) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 161–218Google Scholar
  8. Jackson MT (1966) Effects of microclimate on spring flowering phenology. Ecology 47:407–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Menne MJ, Durre I, Vose RS, Gleason BE, Houston TG (2012) An overview of the global historical climatology network-daily database. J Atmos Ocean Tech 29:897–910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Menzel A, Estrella N, Testka A (2005) Temperature response rates from long-term phenological records. Clim Res 30:21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Menzel A, Sparks TH, Estrella N, Koch E, Aasa A, Ahas R, et al. (2006) European phenological response to climate change matches the warming pattern. Glob Chang Biol 12:1969–1976CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Peñuelas J, Rutishauser T, Filella I (2009) Phenology feedbacks on climate change. Science 324:887–888CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Rutishauser T, Luterbacher J, Defila C, Frank D, Wanner H (2008) Swiss spring plant phenology 2007: extremes, a multi-century perspective, and changes in temperature sensitivity. Geophys Res Lett 35:L5703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Sarvas R (1972) Investigations on the annual cycle of development on forest trees. Active period. Communicationes Instituti Forestalis Fenniae 76:1–110Google Scholar
  15. Schaber J, Badeck FW (2002) Evaluation of methods for the combination of phenological time series and outlier detection. Tree Physiol 22:973–982CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Schleip C, Rutishauser T, Luterbacher J, Menzel A (2008) Time series modeling and central European temperature impact assessment of phenological records over the last 250 years. J Geophys Res 113Google Scholar
  17. Schwartz MD, Marotz GA (1986) An approach to examining regional atmosphere-plant interactions with phenological data. J Biogeogr 13:551–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Schwartz MD, Marotz GA (1988) Synoptic events and spring phenology. Phys Geogr 9:151–161Google Scholar
  19. Vitasse Y (2013) Ontogenic changes rather than difference in temperature cause understory trees to leaf out earlier. New Phytol 198:149–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wang H, Ge Q, Dai J, Tao Z (2015) Geographical pattern in first bloom variability and its relation to temperature sensitivity in the USA and China. Int J Biometeorol 59:961–969CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© ISB 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR) and Institute of GeographyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations