Skip to main content

Dominant Sonoran Desert plant species have divergent phenological responses to climate change

January 4, 2022

The southwestern U.S. is a global hotspot of climate change. Models project that temperatures will continue to rise through the end of the 21st century, accompanied by significant changes to the hydrological cycle. Within the Sonoran Desert, a limited number of studies have documented climate change impacts on the phenology of native plant species. Much of this phenological work to understand climate change impacts to phenology builds on research conducted nearly three decades ago to define flowering triggers and developmental requirements for native keystone Sonoran Desert woody species. Here we expand on the drivers and explore recent phenological trends for six species using a unique 36-year observational data set. We use statistical models to determine which aspects of climate influence the probability of flowering, and how flowering time may respond to climate change. We move beyond traditional models of phenology by incorporating different metrics of moisture availability in addition to temperature, weather, and climate at several time scales, including daily, weekly, seasonal, and antecedent conditions. Our results provide evidence of a trend towards earlier flowering (on the order of 1–4 days per decade) for five of the six species analyzed, and no trend for one species. The species we evaluated had contrasting phenological responses to different aspects of climate, suggesting individualistic changes in phenology and the potential of divergent plant community flowering patterns under future climate change. Understanding recent changes in flowering phenology and their climatic triggers is important to anticipating whether plant species can attract pollinators, reproduce, and persist within the community under continued climate change.

Related Content