How well do the spring indices predict phenological activity across plant species?

Abstract

The spring indices, models that represent the onset of spring season biological activity, were developed using a long-term observational record from the mid-to-late twentieth century of three species of lilacs and honeysuckles contributed by volunteer observers across the nation. The USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) produces and freely delivers maps of spring index onset dates at fine spatial scale for the USA. These maps are used widely in natural resource planning and management applications. The extent to which the models represent activity in a broad suite of plant species is not well documented. In this study, we used a rich record of observational plant phenology data (37,819 onset records) collected in recent years (1981–2017) to evaluate how well gridded maps of the spring index models predict leaf and flowering onset dates in (a) 19 species of ecologically important, broadly distributed deciduous trees and shrubs, and (b) the lilac and honeysuckle species used to construct the models. The extent to which the spring indices predicted vegetative and reproductive phenology varied by species and with latitude, with stronger relationships revealed for shrubs than trees and with the Bloom Index compared to the Leaf Index, and reduced concordance between the indices at higher latitudes. These results allow us to use the indices as indicators of when to expect activity across widely distributed species and can serve as a yardstick to assess how future changes in the timing of spring will impact a broad array of trees and shrubs across the USA.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to USA-NPN National Coordinating Office staff for providing feedback on this work and contributing to the infrastructure to collect, manage, and communicate these results, particularly Ellen Denny, Lee Marsh, Jeff Switzer, and Jake Weltzin. The authors appreciate the comments of two anonymous reviewers whose insights greatly improved the manuscript. Data were provided by the USA National Phenology Network and the many participants who contribute to its Nature’s Notebook program. Lilac and honeysuckle data were provided by the USA National Phenology Network, Joseph M. Caprio, and all contributors to past U.S. Dept. of Agriculture regional phenology projects. The project was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number G14AC00405 and G18AC00135 from the U.S. Geological Survey and by NASA grant NAA112AC79B.

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Correspondence to Katharine L. Gerst.

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Gerst, K.L., Crimmins, T.M., Posthumus, E.E. et al. How well do the spring indices predict phenological activity across plant species?. Int J Biometeorol 64, 889–901 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-020-01879-z

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Keywords

  • Spring indices
  • Plant phenology
  • Citizen science
  • Phenological model
  • Deciduous trees