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Flowering phenology change and climate warming in southwestern Ohio


Global surface temperature has increased markedly over the last 100 years. This increase has a variety of implications for human societies, and for ecological systems. One of the most obvious ways ecosystems are affected by global climate change is through alteration of organisms’ developmental timing (phenology). We used annual botanical surveys that documented the first flowering for an array of species from 1976 to 2003 to examine the potential implications of climate change for plant development. The overall trend for these species was a progressively earlier flowering time. The two earliest flowering taxa (Galanthus and Crocus) also exhibited the strongest shift in first flowering. We detected a significant trend in climate suggesting higher temperatures in winter and spring over the sampling interval and found a significant relationship between warming temperatures and first flowering time for some species. Although 60% of the species in our study flowered earlier over the sampling interval, the remaining species exhibited no statistically detectable change. This variation in response is ostensibly associated with among-species variation in the role of climate cues in plant development. Future work is needed to isolate specific climate cues, and to link plant phenology to the physiological processes that trigger plant development.

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This analysis was made possible by three decades of careful observations by Carol Graff. We are appreciative of her careful botanical efforts and grateful that she was willing to share her data. Comments by Amy L. Goff-Yates and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ryan W. McEwan.

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McEwan, R.W., Brecha, R.J., Geiger, D.R. et al. Flowering phenology change and climate warming in southwestern Ohio. Plant Ecol 212, 55–61 (2011).

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  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • First flowering
  • Minimum temperature