Plant and fungi phenology
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Phenology is the timing of seasonal events such as budburst, flowering, dormancy, migration and hibernation. Some phenological responses are triggered by mean temperature, while others are more responsive to day length or weather extremes. Changes in phenology affect the growing season and thus ecosystem functioning and productivity. Changes in phenology are impacting farming, forestry, gardening and wildlife. The timing of tilling, sowing and harvesting is changing, fruit is ripening earlier due to warmer summer temperatures, and grass in municipal parks and on road verges requires more frequent cutting over a longer period. Changes in flowering have implications for the timing and intensity of the pollen season and related health effects. The pollen season is advancing as many species start to flower earlier, and the concentration of pollen in the air is increasing. The increasing trend in the yearly amount of airborne pollen for many taxa is more pronounced in urban than semi-natural areas across the continent.
- DEFRA, 2007. Conserving biodiversity in a changing climate Guidance on building capacity to adapt. DEFRA, UK.
- Nordic Council, 2005. Conservation of Nordic Nature in a Changing Climate. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen.
- European Commission (2011) Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020. European Commission (2011) Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020.
- Trends in spring phenology
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The White Paper stresses the need to improve the knowledge base and to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. The European Commission will be publishing an EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013. A number of Member States have already taken action, and several have prepared national adaptation plans.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG Climate Action: What is the EU doing about climate change?
Activities of the EU regarding climate change (both mitigation and adaptation)
White paper - Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action
EU framework for adaptation to climate change, leading to a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy by 2013
Key policy question
How is climate change affecting the seasonal cycle of plants and fungi in Europe?
Methodology for indicator calculation
A phenological dataset collected during the COST 725 Action ‘Establishing a European phenological data platform for climatological applications’ was analysed, which contained more than 36000 phenological time series for Europe covering 1971–2000.
Methodology for gap filling
- Estrella et al. 2009: Effects of temperature, phase type and timing, location, and human density on plant phenological responses in Europe. Estrella, N., Sparks, T. H. and Menzel, A. (2009) Effects of temperature, phase type and timing, location, and human density on plant phenological responses in Europe. Climate Research 39(3), 235–248. doi:10.3354/cr00818
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Generally, observations for popular groups such as vascular plants, birds, other terrestrial vertebrates and butterflies are much better than for less conspicuous and less popular species. Similarly, due to extensive existing networks, a long tradition and better means of detection and rapid responses of the organisms to changes, knowledge on phenological changes are better observed and recorded than range shifts. Projections of climate change impacts on phenology rely crucially on the understanding of current processes and responses. For most cases, only a few years of data are available and do not cover the entire area of the EU but are restricted to certain well monitored countries with a long tradition in the involvement of citizen scientists. Based on these short time series, the determination of impacts and their interpretation thus has to rely on assumptions, and achieving a qualitative understanding of species’ responses is more robust than their quantification. One of the greatest unknowns is how quickly and closely species will alter their phenology in accordance to a changing climatic regime. Even experimental studies seem to be of little help, since they notoriously tend to underestimate the effects of climate change on changes in phenology.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)