Phenological response to climate change in China: a meta-analysis

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Abstract

The change in the phenology of plants or animals reflects the response of living systems to climate change. Numerous studies have reported a consistent earlier spring phenophases in many parts of middle and high latitudes reflecting increasing temperatures with the exception of China. A systematic analysis of Chinese phenological response could complement the assessment of climate change impact for the whole Northern Hemisphere. Here, we analyze 1263 phenological time series (1960–2011, with 20+ years data) of 112 species extracted from 48 studies across 145 sites in China. Taxonomic groups include trees, shrubs, herbs, birds, amphibians and insects. Results demonstrate that 90.8% of the spring/summer phenophases time series show earlier trends and 69.0% of the autumn phenophases records show later trends. For spring/summer phenophases, the mean advance across all the taxonomic groups was 2.75 days decade−1 ranging between 2.11 and 6.11 days decade−1 for insects and amphibians, respectively. Herbs and amphibians show significantly stronger advancement than trees, shrubs and insect. The response of phenophases of different taxonomic groups in autumn is more complex: trees, shrubs, herbs and insects show a delay between 1.93 and 4.84 days decade−1, while other groups reveal an advancement ranging from 1.10 to 2.11 days decade−1. For woody plants (including trees and shrubs), the stronger shifts toward earlier spring/summer were detected from the data series starting from more recent decades (1980s–2000s). The geographic factors (latitude, longitude and altitude) could only explain 9% and 3% of the overall variance in spring/summer and autumn phenological trends, respectively. The rate of change in spring/summer phenophase of woody plants (1960s–2000s) generally matches measured local warming across 49 sites in China (R = −0.33, P < 0.05).

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