Abstracts on Global Climate Change

May 2007

Phenological responses of plants to climate change in an urban environment

Luo, ZK Sun, OJ Ge, QS Xu, WT Zheng, JY


Global climate change is likely to alter the phenological patterns of plants due to the controlling effects of climate on plant ontogeny, especially in an urbanized environment. We studied relationships between various phenophases (i.e., seasonal biological events) and interannual variations of air temperature in three woody plant species (Prunus davidiana, Hibiscus syriacus, and Cercis chinensis) in the Beijing Metropolis, China, based on phenological data for the period 1962-2004 and meteorological data for the period 1951-2004. Analysis of phenology and climate data indicated significant changes in spring and autumn phenophases and temperatures. Changes in phenophases were observed for all the three species, consistent with patterns of rising air temperatures in the Beijing Metropolis. The changing phenology in the three plant species was reflected mainly as advances of the spring phenophases and delays in the autumn phenophases, but with strong variations among species and phenophases in response to different temperature indices. Most phenophases (both spring and autumn phenophases) had significant relationships with temperatures of the preceding months. There existed large inter- and intra-specific variations, however, in the responses of phenology to climate change. It is clear that the urban heat island effect from 1978 onwards is a dominant cause of the observed phenological changes. Differences in phenological responses to climate change may cause uncertain ecological consequences, with implications for ecosystem stability and function in urban environments.

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