Phenological responses in maple to experimental atmospheric warming and CO2 enrichment


Richard J. Norby, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Bldg 1062, PO Box 2008, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6422, USA, tel. 865 576 5621, fax 865 576 9939, e-mail:


Evidence that global warming has altered the phenology of the biosphere, possibly contributing to increased plant production in the northern hemisphere, has come from a diversity of observations at scales ranging from the view of the back yard to satellite images of the earth. These observations, coupled with an understanding of the effects of temperature on plant phenology, suggest that future changes in the atmosphere and climate could alter plant phenology with unknown or unpredictable consequences. We assessed the effects of simulated climatic warming and atmospheric CO2 enrichment on the spring and autumn phenology of maple trees (Acer rubrum and A. saccharum) growing for four years in open-top field chambers. CO2 enrichment (+300 ppm) had no consistent effects on the timing of budbreak and leaf unfolding in the spring or leaf abscission in the autumn. Warming (+4°C) usually had predictable effects: in two of the three years of assessment, budbreak occurred earlier in warm chambers than in ambient temperature chambers, and leaf abscission always occurred later. The lengthening of the growing season could contribute to increased productivity, although effects of temperature on other physiological processes can concurrently have negative effects on productivity. In 1995, budbreak was unexpectedly delayed in the warmer chambers, apparently the result of advanced budbreak leading to injury from a late-spring frost. Likewise, there was increased risk associated with longer leaf retention in the autumn: in 1994, leaves in the warm chambers were killed by freezing temperatures before they had senesced. These observations support the premise that global warming could increase the length of the growing season. Phenological responses should, therefore, be part of any assessment of the possible consequences of global change, but our results also suggest that those responses may not always have positive effects on production.