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Climate change is advancing spring onset across the U.S. national park system

TitleClimate change is advancing spring onset across the U.S. national park system
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMonahan, WB, Rosemartin, A, Gerst, KL, Fisichelli, NA, Ault, T, Schwartz, MD, Gross, JE, Weltzin, JF
Date Published10/2016

Many U.S. national parks are already at the extreme warm end of their historical temperature distributions. With rapidly warming conditions, park resource management will be enhanced by information on seasonality of climate that supports adjustments in the timing of activities such as treating invasive species, operating visitor facilities, and scheduling climate-related events (e.g., flower festivals and fall leaf-viewing). Seasonal changes in vegetation, such as pollen, seed, and fruit production, are important drivers of ecological processes in parks, and phenology has thus been identified as a key indicator for park monitoring. Phenology is also one of the most proximate biological responses to climate change. Here, we use estimates of start of spring based on climatically modeled dates of first leaf and first bloom derived from indicator plant species to evaluate the recent timing of spring onset (past 10–30 yr) in each U.S. natural resource park relative to its historical range of variability across the past 112 yr (1901–2012). Of the 276 high latitude to subtropical parks examined, spring is advancing in approximately three-quarters of parks (76%), and 53% of parks are experiencing “extreme” early springs that exceed 95% of historical conditions. Our results demonstrate how changes in climate seasonality are important for understanding ecological responses to climate change, and further how spatial variability in effects of climate change necessitates different approaches to management. We discuss how our results inform climate change adaptation challenges and opportunities facing parks, with implications for other protected areas, by exploring consequences for resource management and planning.