Plants in the Arctic, that normally flower late in summer, respond to climate warming by speeding up the flowering faster than early flowering plants. This, in turn, leads to a shorter overall flowering period, affecting the survival of various species in the area. These results are published in a new scientific article by 38 plant ecologists in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution this December.
Their study is based on up to 20 years of phenological observations of 253 species at 23 sites across the Arctic and alpine tundra world-wide. Among the authors is Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir, Professor of Ecology at the Institute of Life- and Environmental Sciences. She has studied plant responses to climate warming both in Iceland and Svalbard.
The earlier start of flowering in spring is one of the most visible effects of climate warming on plant communities in seasonal environments and has been especially pronounced in the temperature-limited Arctic and alpine tundra. However, plant species respond differently to warming and some species shift their flowering phenology more than others. The results show that plants that usually flower relatively late in the season shift their phenology more than early flowering plants as the climate grows warmer.
Shorter flowering season in a warmer climate has the potential to alter trophic interactions in tundra ecosystems as a range of animals depend on the flowering season, as for example pollinators among insects, a phenomenon that has been called a trophic mismatch.
Interestingly, these findings differ from those of warmer ecosystems where early-flowering species have been found to be more sensitive to temperature change than late-flowering species.