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Spring plant phenology and false springs in the conterminous US during the 21st century

TitleSpring plant phenology and false springs in the conterminous US during the 21st century
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsAllstadt, AJ, Vavrus, SJ, Heglund, PJ, Pidgeon, AM, Thogmartin, WE, Radeloff, VC
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
IssueVolume 10, Number 10
Date Published10/2015

The onset of spring plant growth has shifted earlier in the year over the past several decades due to rising global temperatures. Earlier spring onset may cause phenological mismatches between the availability of plant resources and dependent animals, and potentially lead to more false springs, when subsequent freezing temperatures damage new plant growth. We used the extended spring indices to project changes in spring onset, defined by leaf out and by first bloom, and predicted false springs until 2100 in the conterminous United States (US) using statistically-downscaled climate projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 ensemble. Averaged over our study region, the median shift in spring onset was 23 days earlier in the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 scenario with particularly large shifts in the Western US and the Great Plains. Spatial variation in phenology was due to the influence of short-term temperature changes around the time of spring onset versus season-long accumulation of warm temperatures. False spring risk increased in the Great Plains and portions of the Midwest, but remained constant or decreased elsewhere. We conclude that global climate change may have complex and spatially variable effects on spring onset and false springs, making local predictions of change difficult.

Environmental Research Letters