Phenological tracking enables positive species responses to climate change

Elsa E. Cleland, Jenica M. Allen, Theresa M. Crimmins, Jennifer A. Dunne, Stephanie Pau, Steven E. Travers, Erika S. Zavaleta, Elizabeth M. Wolkovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

253 Scopus citations


Earlier spring phenology observed in many plant species in recent decades provides compelling evidence that species are already responding to the rising global temperatures associated with anthropogenic climate change. There is great variability among species, however, in their phenological sensitivity to temperature. Species that do not phenologically "track" climate change may be at a disadvantage if their growth becomes limited by missed interactions with mutualists, or a shorter growing season relative to earlieractive competitors. Here, we set out to test the hypothesis that phenological sensitivity could be used to predict species performance in a warming climate, by synthesizing results across terrestrial warming experiments. We assembled data for 57 species across 24 studies where flowering or vegetative phenology was matched with a measure of species performance. Performance metrics included biomass, percent cover, number of flowers, or individual growth. We found that species that advanced their phenology with warming also increased their performance, whereas those that did not advance tended to decline in performance with warming. This indicates that species that cannot phenologically "track" climate may be at increased risk with future climate change, and it suggests that phenological monitoring may provide an important tool for setting future conservation priorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1765-1771
Number of pages7
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Climate change
  • Conservation
  • Meta-analysis
  • Phenology
  • Synthesis
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Tracking climate
  • Warming experiment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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