CLIMATIC VARIABILITY, PLANT PHENOLOGY, AND NORTHERN UNGULATES

We investigated the influences of large-scale climatic variability on plant phenology and ungulate population ecology by incorporating the North Atlantic Oscillation in statistical analyses of previously published data on: the timing of flowering by plants in Norway, and phenotypic and demographic variation in populations of northern ungulates

Eric Post; Nils Chr. Stenseth

2007

Scholarcy highlights

  • Models of climate change predict that global temperatures and precipitation will increase within the century, with the most pronounced changes occurring in northern latitudes and during winter
  • A large-scale atmospheric phenomenon, the North Atlantic Oscillation, is a strong determinant of both interannual variation and decadal trends in temperatures and precipitation during winter in northern latitudes, and its recent persistence in one extreme phase may be a substantial component of increases in global temperatures
  • We investigated the influences of large-scale climatic variability on plant phenology and ungulate population ecology by incorporating the NAO in statistical analyses of previously published data on: the timing of flowering by plants in Norway, and phenotypic and demographic variation in populations of northern ungulates
  • Plant phenology was significantly related to the NAO in 97 time series, in which dynamics of the NAO explained, on average, between 9% and 28% of the interannual variation in flowering dates
  • Individuals within mainland populations responded to winter warming with reduced body size and increased fecundity, whereas winter warming in maritime regions led to increased body size but reduced fecundity
  • Across sex and age classes, between 43% and 70% of the observed range in body mass among years was attributable to the dynamics of the NAO, and within cohorts of female red deer and reindeer, 47–70% of the observed range in fecundity was related to the NAO during the winter preceding cohort birth years
  • These observations indicate that large-scale climatic variability has a detectable influence on the ecology of plants and animals in a variety of terrestrial ecosystems, and that the responses of plants to winter warming may, surprisingly, be more subtle than the responses of large herbivores

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