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Flowering phenology shifts in response to biodiversity loss

April 7, 2017

Observational studies and experimental evidence agree that rising global temperatures have altered plant phenology—the timing of life events, such as flowering, germination, and leaf-out. Other large-scale global environmental changes, such as nitrogen deposition and altered precipitation regimes, have also been linked to changes in flowering times. Despite our increased understanding of how abiotic factors influence plant phenology, we know very little about how biotic interactions can affect flowering times, a significant knowledge gap given ongoing human-caused alteration of biodiversity and plant community structure at the global scale. We experimentally manipulated plant diversity in a California serpentine grassland and found that many plant species flowered earlier in response to reductions in diversity, with peak flowering date advancing an average of 0.6 days per species lost. These changes in phenology were mediated by the effects of plant diversity on soil surface temperature, available soil N, and soil moisture. Peak flowering dates were also more dispersed among species in high-diversity plots than expected based on monocultures. Our findings illustrate that shifts in plant species composition and diversity can alter the timing and distribution of flowering events, and that these changes to phenology are similar in magnitude to effects induced by climate change. Declining diversity could thus contribute to or exacerbate phenological changes attributed to rising global temperatures.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Flowering phenology shifts in response to biodiversity loss
DOI 10.1073/pnas.1608357114
Authors Amelia A. Wolf, Erika S Zavaleta, Paul C. Selmants
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Series Number
Index ID 70186715
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center