Plant and fungi phenology
- The timing of seasonal events in plants is changing across Europe, mainly due to changes in climate conditions. Seventy-eight per cent of leaf unfolding and flowering records show advancing trends in recent decades whereas only 3 % show a significant delay. Between 1971 and 2000, the average advance of spring and summer was between 2.5 and 4 days per decade.
- As a consequence of climate-induced changes in plant phenology, the pollen season starts on average 10 days earlier and is longer than it was 50 years ago.
- Trends in seasonal events are projected to advance further as climate warming proceeds.
How is climate change affecting the seasonal cycle of plants and fungi in Europe?
Trends in spring phenology in Europe
Note: This figure shows the spring trends of phenology 1971-2000 grouped by their mean onset date. Each dot represents a station. Dot size adjusted for clarity. A negative phenological trend corresponds to an earlier onset of spring.
- Effects of temperature, phase type and timing, location, and human density on plant phenological responses in Europe provided by Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan (WZW TUM)
Compared to the 2008 report [i], there is new evidence of climate change impacts on plant and fungi phenology. An analysis of 315 species of fungi in England showed that these have increased their fruiting season from 33 to 75 days between 1950 and 2005 [ii]. Furthermore, climate warming and changes in the temporal allocation of nutrients to roots seem to have caused significant numbers of species to begin fruiting in spring as well as autumn. A study on 53 plant species in the UK found that they have advanced leafing, flowering and fruiting on average by 5.8 days between 1976 and 2005 [iii]. Similarly, 29 perennial plant species in Spain have advanced leaf unfolding on average by 4.8 days, first flowering by 5.9 days, and fruiting by 3.2 days over the period 1943–2003, whereas leaf senescence was delayed on average by 1.2 days [iv]. For plants, a medium spring advancement of four to five days per 1 °C increase has been observed in Europe (see Figure 1) [v].
Short warm and cold spells also can have a strong effect on phenological events but this depends strongly on their timing and the species [vi]. Continental-scale change patterns have been derived from time series of satellite measured phenological variables (1982–2006) [vii]. North-east Europe showed a trend to an earlier and longer growing season, particularly in the northern Baltic areas. Despite the earlier greening up, large areas of Europe exhibited rather stable season length indicating the shift of the entire growing season to an earlier period. The northern Mediterranean displayed a growing season shift towards later dates while some agglomerations of earlier and shorter growing season were also seen. The correlation of phenological time series with climate data shows a cause-and-effect relationship over the semi-natural areas. In contrast, managed ecosystems have a heterogeneous change pattern with less or no correlation to climatic trends. Over these areas climatic trends seemed to overlap in a complex manner with more pronounced effects of local biophysical conditions and/or land management practices.
Phenology is primarily seen as an indicator to observe the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and their constituent species. Most projections of climate change impacts focus on other ecosystem processes, functions and services of more direct relevance for humans. However, an extrapolation of the observed relationship between temperature and phenological events into the future can provide a first estimate of future changes in phenology. Obviously, there are limits to possible changes in phenology, beyond which ecosystems have to adapt by changes in species composition. One of the few projections is for olives (Olea europaea) in the western Mediterranean, where an advancement of flowering by 3–23 days in 2030 compared to 1990 was projected[viii]. For six dominant European tree species[ix] showed that flushing is expected to advance in the next decades but this trend substantially differed between species (from 0 to 2.4 days per decade). The more difficult prediction of leaf senescence for two deciduous species is expected to be delayed in the future (from 1.4 to 2.3 days per decade). The authors conclude that earlier spring leafing and later autumn senescence are likely to affect the competitive balance between species.
[i] EEA, Impacts of Europe’s changing climate - 2008 indicator-based assessment. Joint EEA-JRC-WHO report EEA Report (Copenhagen: European Environment Agency, September 29, 2008), http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/eea_report_2008_4.
[ii] A.C. Gange et al., „Rapid and recent changes in fungal fruiting patterns“, Science 316, Nr. 5821 (2007): 71, doi:10.1126/science.1137489.
[iii] Stephen J. Thackeray et al., „Trophic level asynchrony in rates of phenological change for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments“, Global Change Biology 16, Nr. 12 (Dezember 2010): 3304–3313, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02165.x.
[iv] Oscar Gordo and Juan José Sanz, „Temporal Trends in Phenology of the Honey Bee Apis Mellifera (L.) and the Small White Pieris Rapae (L.) in the Iberian Peninsula (1952–2004)“, Ecological Entomology 31, Nr. 3 (Juni 1, 2006): 261–268, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2311.2006.00787.x.
[v] R.I. Bertin, „Plant phenology and distribution in relation to recent climate change“, The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 135, Nr. 1 (2008): 126–146, doi:10.3159/07-RP-035R.1; Nicole Estrella, Tim H. Sparks, and Annette Menzel, „Effects of temperature, phase type and timing, location, and human density on plant phenological responses in Europe“, Climate Research 39, Nr. 3 (September 10, 2009): 235–248, doi:10.3354/cr00818; Tatsuya Amano et al., „A 250-year index of first flowering dates and its response to temperature changes“, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277, Nr. 1693 (August 22, 2010): 2451–2457, doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0291.
[vi] E. Koch et al., „COST725 – establishing a European phenological data platform for climatological applications: major results“, Advances in Science and Research 3 (Oktober 13, 2009): 119–122, doi:10.5194/asr-3-119-2009; Annette Menzel, Holm Seifert, and Nicole Estrella, „Effects of recent warm and cold spells on European plant phenology“, International Journal of Biometeorology 55, Nr. 6 (Juli 14, 2011): 921–932, doi:10.1007/s00484-011-0466-x.
[vii] E. Ivits et al., „Combining satellite derived phenology with climate data for climate change impact assessment“, Global and Planetary Change 88–89 (Mai 2012): 85–97, doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2012.03.010.
[viii] CP Osborne et al., „Olive phenology as a sensitive indicator of future climatic warming in the Mediterranean“, Plant, Cell & Environment 23, Nr. 7 (2000): 701–710.
[ix] Yann Vitasse et al., „Assessing the effects of climate change on the phenology of European temperate trees“, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 151, Nr. 7 (Juli 15, 2011): 969–980, doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2011.03.003.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Trends in spring phenology
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
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 CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
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
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
European phenological data platform for climatological applications
provided by Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 023
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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