How well do the spring indices predict phenological activity across plant species?

Katharine L. Gerst, Theresa M. Crimmins, Erin E Posthumus, Alyssa H Rosemartin, Mark D. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The spring indices, models that represent the onset of spring season biological activity, were developed using a long-term observational record from the mid-to-late twentieth century of three species of lilacs and honeysuckles contributed by volunteer observers across the nation. The USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) produces and freely delivers maps of spring index onset dates at fine spatial scale for the USA. These maps are used widely in natural resource planning and management applications. The extent to which the models represent activity in a broad suite of plant species is not well documented. In this study, we used a rich record of observational plant phenology data (37,819 onset records) collected in recent years (1981–2017) to evaluate how well gridded maps of the spring index models predict leaf and flowering onset dates in (a) 19 species of ecologically important, broadly distributed deciduous trees and shrubs, and (b) the lilac and honeysuckle species used to construct the models. The extent to which the spring indices predicted vegetative and reproductive phenology varied by species and with latitude, with stronger relationships revealed for shrubs than trees and with the Bloom Index compared to the Leaf Index, and reduced concordance between the indices at higher latitudes. These results allow us to use the indices as indicators of when to expect activity across widely distributed species and can serve as a yardstick to assess how future changes in the timing of spring will impact a broad array of trees and shrubs across the USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)889-901
Number of pages13
JournalInternational journal of biometeorology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Citizen science
  • Deciduous trees
  • Phenological model
  • Plant phenology
  • Spring indices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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