Traits and climate are associated with first flowering day in herbaceous species along elevational gradients

Solveig Franziska Bucher, Patrizia König, Annette Menzel, Mirco Migliavacca, Jörg Ewald, Christine Römermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Phenological responses to changing temperatures are known as “fingerprints of climate change,” yet these reactions are highly species specific. To assess whether different plant characteristics are related to these species-specific responses in flowering phenology, we observed the first flowering day (FFD) of ten herbaceous species along two elevational gradients, representing temperature gradients. On the same populations, we measured traits being associated with (1) plant performance (specific leaf area), (2) leaf biochemistry (leaf C, N, P, K, and Mg content), and (3) water-use efficiency (stomatal pore area index and stable carbon isotopes concentration). We found that as elevation increased, FFD was delayed for all species with a highly species-specific rate. Populations at higher elevations needed less temperature accumulation to start flowering than populations of the same species at lower elevations. Surprisingly, traits explained a higher proportion of variance in the phenological data than elevation. Earlier flowering was associated with higher water-use efficiency, higher leaf C, and lower leaf P content. In addition to that, the intensity of shifts in FFD was related to leaf N and K. These results propose that traits have a high potential in explaining phenological variations, which even surpassed the effect of temperature changes in our study. Therefore, they have a high potential to be included in future analyses studying the effects of climate change and will help to improve predictions of vegetation changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1147-1158
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • altitude
  • carbon isotope discrimination (ΔC)
  • leaf nutrients
  • phenology
  • specific leaf area
  • stomatal pore area index


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