• plant phenology;
  • spring phenology index;
  • temperature sensitivity;
  • climate change;
  • historical observation


Phenology can be used to track plant responses to climate change. In China, several studies have found the earlier trends of spring phenophases over the past 50 years. However, few studies put these phenological changes into historical perspective. Based on specific phenophases records from historical diaries and Chinese Phenological Observation Network, we developed spring phenology index (SPI) time series in temperate and subtropical regions of eastern China from 1850 to 2009. We firstly compare the temporal change of SPI and seasonal temperature anomaly. Subsequently, we search for common shifts in phenological and temperature time series by applying the moving t-test method, and discuss temperature sensitivity of SPI by using the moving linear regression method for both regions. Results show that the SPI in temperate region revealed lower interannual variability than in subtropical region, while the seasonal temperature variability was higher in temperate region. In temperate region, the timing of significant shift towards earlier SPI (in 1979) coincides with the timing of shift in spring temperature time series. The temperature sensitivities of SPI differ among the two regions. The mean sensitivity of SPI to spring temperature in subtropical region (−3.7 days °C−1) is stronger than in temperate region (−2.5 days °C−1). The temperature sensitivity of SPI varies among consecutive 30-year periods. In recent three decades, temperature sensitivity of spring phenophases became stronger in both regions.