Long-term temporal changes of plant phenology in the Western Mediterranean



    1. Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), C/José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author

    Search for more papers by this author
    • 1Present address: Departamento de Ciencias Ambientales, Facultad de Medio Ambiente, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Avenida Carlos III s/n, 45071 Toledo, Spain

Oscar Gordo, tel. +34 914 111 328, ext. 1281, fax +34 915 645 078, e-mail: ogordo@mncn.csic.es


Plants are altering their life cycles in response to current climatic change around the globe. More than 200 000 records for six phenological events (leaf unfolding, flowering, fruit ripening, fruit harvesting, leaf falling and growing season) of 29 perennial species for the period 1943–2003 recorded throughout Spain provide the longest temporal and the broadest spatial assessment of plant phenology changes in the Mediterranean region. The overwhelming majority of the 118 studied phenophases shifted their dates in recent decades. Such changes differed among phenological events. Leaf unfolding, flowering and fruiting are markedly advancing (−0.48, −0.59 and −0.32 days yr−1, respectively), but only since the mid-1970s. Anemophilous have advanced more days their flowering than entomophilous. However, some species have delayed and others have advanced their leaf falling dates and as a result only a weak shift was observed in this event for the whole of the studied species (+0.12 days yr−1). The growing season lengthened by 18 days, which implies an increase of 8% in the life of annual leaves. Such an increase was achieved mainly through the advance of leaf unfolding dates in the spring, one of the most productive times of year for vegetation in the Mediterranean. Shifts in the plant calendar were accompanied as well by long-term changes in the range of onset dates in 39% of studied phenophases. Leaf unfolding, flowering and growing season tended to reduce spatial variability, reflecting a faster and more synchronized onset (or duration) of phenophases across the study area. Changes in spatial variability may aggravate calendar mismatching with other trophic levels resulting from changes in dates. Because temporal responses differed markedly among species, calendar guilds of plants have changed, which suggests alterations of interspecific relationships in plant communities from Mediterranean ecosystems.