Independent effects of warming and nitrogen addition on plant phenology in the Inner Mongolian steppe

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Phenology is one of most sensitive traits of plants in response to regional climate warming. Better understanding of the interactive effects between warming and other environmental change factors, such as increasing atmosphere nitrogen (N) deposition, is critical for projection of future plant phenology.

Methods

A 4-year field experiment manipulating temperature and N has been conducted in a temperate steppe in northern China. Phenology, including flowering and fruiting date as well as reproductive duration, of eight plant species was monitored and calculated from 2006 to 2009.

Key Results

Across all the species and years, warming significantly advanced flowering and fruiting time by 0·64 and 0·72 d per season, respectively, which were mainly driven by the earliest species (Potentilla acaulis). Although N addition showed no impact on phenological times across the eight species, it significantly delayed flowering time of Heteropappus altaicus and fruiting time of Agropyron cristatum. The responses of flowering and fruiting times to warming or N addition are coupled, leading to no response of reproductive duration to warming or N addition for most species. Warming shortened reproductive duration of Potentilla bifurca but extended that of Allium bidentatum, whereas N addition shortened that of A. bidentatum. No interactive effect between warming and N addition was found on any phenological event. Such additive effects could be ascribed to the species-specific responses of plant phenology to warming and N addition.

Conclusions

The results suggest that the warming response of plant phenology is larger in earlier than later flowering species in temperate grassland systems. The effects of warming and N addition on plant phenology are independent of each other. These findings can help to better understand and predict the response of plant phenology to climate warming concurrent with other global change driving factors.

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