Aim To test whether the onset of spring growth in European shrublands is advanced in response to the warmer conditions projected for the next two decades by climate models, and, if there is a change, whether it differs across Europe.
Location The studied sites spanned a broad north–south European gradient with average annual temperatures (8.2–15.6 °C) and precipitation (511–1427 mm).
Methods ‘Bud break’ was monitored in eight shrub and grass species in six European sites under control and experimentally warmer conditions generated by automatic roofs covering vegetation during the night.
Results Species responsive to increased temperatures were Vaccinium myrtillus and Empetrum nigrum in Wales, Deschampsia flexuosa in Denmark, Calluna vulgaris in Netherlands, Populus alba in Hungary and Erica multiflora in Spain. Although the acceleration of spring growth was the commonest response to warming treatments, the responses at each site were species specific and year dependent. Under experimental warming 25% of cases exhibited a significantly earlier onset of the growing season and 10% had a significantly delayed onset of vegetative growth. No geographical gradient was detected in the experimental warming effects. However, there was a trend towards a greater dominance of phenological advances with more intense the warming treatments. Above 0.8 °C warming, only advancements were recorded.
Main conclusions Our results show that warmer temperatures projected for the next decades have substantial potential effects on the phenology of the spring growth of dominant species in different European shrublands, with a dominant trend towards advancements the more intense the warming is. However, our study also demonstrates the overall difficulties of applying simple predictive relationships to extrapolate the effects of global change on phenology. Various combinations of environmental factors occur concurrently at different European sites and the interactions between different drivers (e.g. water and chilling) can alter phenology significantly.