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Animal phenology (CLIM 025) - Assessment published Sep 2008

Indicator Assessment Created 08 Sep 2008 Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 09 Nov 2012, 10:53 AM
Topics: ,

Update planned for November 2012

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

climate change | temperatures | birds
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 025
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Europe, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Key policy question: ..

Key messages

  • Climatic warming has caused advancement in the life cycles of many animal groups, including frogs spawning, birds nesting and the arrival of migrant birds and butterflies. Seasonal advancement is particularly strong and rapid in the Arctic.
  • Breeding seasons are lengthening, allowing extra generations of temperature-sensitive insects such as butterflies, dragonflies and pest species to be produced during the year.
  • These trends are projected to continue as climate warming increases in the decades to come. Populations may explode if the young are not exposed to normal predation pressures. Conversely, populations may crash if the emergence of vulnerable young is not in synchrony with their main food source or if shorter hibernation times lead to declines in body condition.

Trend in egg-laying dates of the Pied flycatcher across Europe

Note: This map shows the trend in egg-laying dates of the Pied flycatcher across Europe (1980-2004). Dots: weather stations used to calculate changes in local egg-laying dates (derived from temperature data); triangles: location of Pied flycatcher laying date time series.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Past trends

As spring temperatures increased in Europe over the past 30 years, many organisms responded by advancing the timing of their growth and reproduction.
A study in Britain (Crick and Sparks, 1999) analysed 74 258 records for 65 bird species from 1971 to 1995. The study showed significant trends towards earlier (8.8 days on average) laying dates for 20 species (31 %), with only one species laying significantly later. The effects, however, are not necessarily uniform. The predicted egg-laying date for the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), for example, shows significant advancement during the period 1980 to 2004 in western and central Europe, but delays in northern Europe (Figure 1); both are strongly driven by temperature trends (Both and Marvelde, 2007).
Strong and rapid phenological changes have been observed in the high latitudes in response to warming of the region occurring at twice the global average rate (Hoye et al., 2007). The date of snowmelt in northeast Greenland has advanced by an average of 14.6 days since the mid 1990s, resulting in earlier egg-laying dates for birds in the region.


The future impacts of climate change on animal phenology are poorly understood, but could include increasing trophic mismatch and disturbance to ecosystem functioning. The trend towards warmer springs may continue to induce earlier breeding and migration activity. Unpredictable cold snaps are likely to cause high mortality amongst early movers. Meanwhile, species whose life cycles are calibrated according to day length, and which do not respond so readily to changing temperatures, will not be able to exploit earlier spring resources unless they can adapt.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


EEA Management Plan

2008 2.3.1 (note: EEA internal system)



European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100