1. Precise models for the phenology of different species are essential for predicting the potential effects of any temporal mismatch of life cycles with environmental parameters under different climate change scenarios. Here we investigated the effects of ambient water temperature on the onset and synchrony of emergence for a widespread European riverine dragonfly, Gomphus vulgatissimus.
2. Long-term field data on the annual emergence from two rivers in northern Germany, and additional data from a laboratory experiment with different temperature regimes, were used to develop a model that predicted the onset of emergence by using mainly the temperature sum (degree days) as a parameter.
3. Model predictions of the onset of emergence fitted the observations well and could be transferred between localities. This was particularly so when weighting early winter temperature data by using a day length and a temperature-response function, implying potential additional control mechanisms for the onset of emergence.
4. We simulated effects of different winter temperature regimes on the emergence curves in order to predict the effects of climate change. These indicated an acceleration of emergence by 6–7 days per 1 °C temperature increase, which is corroborated by the laboratory data and is in the upper range of data published for other dragonflies.