• Alps;
  • growth forms;
  • herbs;
  • phenology;
  • sensitivity;
  • trees


Global climate change influences ecosystems across the world. Alpine plant communities have already experienced serious impacts, and will continue to do so as climate change continues. The aim of our study was to determine the sensitivity of woody and herbaceous species to shifts in temperature along an altitudinal gradient. Since 1994, park rangers have been making phenological observations at 24 sites from 680 to 1425 m a.s.l. Each year 21 plant species were observed once or twice weekly from March to July; with a main focus on flowering and leaf unfolding. Our study showed a very high degree of dependence of phenophases and species on inter-annual temperature variation and altitude. Averaged over all species and phenophases, there was a delay of 3.8 days with every 100 m increase in altitude and, across all elevations, an advance of phenophases of 6 days per 1 °C increase in temperature. Temperature lapse rates assessed indirectly by phenology, as the quotient of altitudinal to temperature response coefficients, were higher than directly calculated from March to July mean temperatures, most likely due to snow effects. Furthermore, a significant difference in sensitivity to temperature change was found between growth forms (herbs versus trees). Sensitivity was less pronounced in events occurring later in the season. Our results show that species reactions will differ in magnitude during global warming. Consequently, impacts of shifts in the timing of phenological events on plant migration and plant–pollinator interactions due to rising temperatures should be considered at the species level.