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Keywords:

  • flowering;
  • fruiting;
  • global warming;
  • growing season;
  • leaf falling;
  • leaf unfolding;
  • North Atlantic Oscillation;
  • precipitation;
  • Spain;
  • temperature

Abstract

Plant phenology is strongly controlled by climate and has consequently become one of the most reliable bioindicators of ongoing climate change. We used a dataset of more than 200 000 records for six phenological events of 29 perennial plant species monitored from 1943 to 2003 for a comprehensive assessment of plant phenological responses to climate change in the Mediterranean region. Temperature, precipitation and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) were studied together during a complete annual cycle before phenological events to determine their relative importance and potential seasonal carry-over effects. Warm and dry springs under a positive phase of NAO advance flowering, leaf unfolding and fruiting dates and lengthen the growing season. Spatial variability of dates (range among sites) was also reduced during warm and dry years, especially for spring events. Climate during previous weeks to phenophases occurrence had the greatest impact on plants, although all events were also affected by climate conditions several months before. Immediate along with delayed climate effects suggest dual triggers in plant phenology. Climatic models accounted for more than 80% of variability in flowering and leaf unfolding dates, and in length of the growing season, but for lower proportions in fruiting and leaf falling. Most part of year-to-year changes in dates was accounted for temperature, while precipitation and NAO accounted for <10% of dates' variability. In the case of flowering, insect-pollinated species were better modelled by climate than wind-pollinated species. Differences in temporal responses of plant phenology to recent climate change are due to differences in the sensitivity to climate among events and species. Spring events are changing more than autumn events as they are more sensitive to climate and are also undergoing the greatest alterations of climate relative to other seasons. In conclusion, climate change has shifted plant phenology in the Mediterranean region.