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Plant and fungi phenology (CLIM 023) - Assessment published Nov 2012

Indicator Assessment Created 09 Nov 2012 Published 20 Nov 2012 Last modified 20 Nov 2012, 12:49 PM

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

Biodiversity Biodiversity

climate change | biodiversity | phenology
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 023
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estland, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244/99), Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mazedonien (EJRM), Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Key policy question: How is climate change affecting the seasonal cycle of plants and fungi in Europe?

Key messages

  • 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.

Key assessment

Past trends

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),

[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.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

User not found: fussehan


EEA Management Plan

2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years in October-December (Q4)


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