Temperatures for the southwestern USA are predicted to increase in coming decades, especially during the summer season; however, little is known about how summer precipitation patterns may change. We aimed to better understand how nonsucculent plants of a water-limited gradient encompassing xeric desert to mesic mountain-top may respond to changes in summer conditions. We used a species-rich 26-yr flowering record to determine species' relationships with precipitation and temperature in months coincident with and previous to flowering. The onset of summer flowering was strongly influenced by the amount and timing of July precipitation, regardless of elevation or life form, suggesting the critical importance of soil moisture in triggering summer flowering in this region. Future changes in the timing or consistency of the early monsoon will probably impact directly on the onset of flowering for many species in this region. In addition, a key implication of predicted increasing temperatures is a decrease in available soil moisture. At all elevations, many species may be expected to flower later in the summer under the decreased soil moisture conditions associated with warmer temperatures. However, impacts on summer flowering may be greater at higher elevations, because of the greater sensitivity of mesic plants to water stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-479
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Arizona (USA)
  • Climate change
  • Elevation gradient
  • First flowering date
  • Phenology
  • Plant-climate interactions
  • Semi-arid environment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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