High Arctic plant phenology is determined by snowmelt patterns but duration of phenological periods is fixed: an example of periodicity

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The duration of specific periods within a plant's life cycle are critical for plant growth and performance. In the High Arctic, the start of many of these phenological periods is determined by snowmelt date, which may change in a changing climate. It has been suggested that the end of these periods during late-season are triggered by external cues, such as day length, light quality or temperature, leading to the hypothesis that earlier or later snowmelt dates will lengthen or shorten the duration of these periods, respectively, and thereby affect plant performance. We tested whether snowmelt date controls phenology and phenological period duration in High Arctic Svalbard using a melt timing gradient from natural and experimentally altered snow depths. We investigated the response of early- and late-season phenophases from both vegetative and reproductive phenological periods of eight common species. We found that all phenophases follow snowmelt patterns, irrespective of timing of occurrence, vegetative or reproductive nature. Three of four phenological period durations based on these phenophases were fixed for most species, defining the studied species as periodic. Periodicity can thus be considered an evolutionary trait leading to disadvantages compared with aperiodic species and we conclude that the mesic and heath vegetation types in Svalbard are at risk of being outcompeted by invading, aperiodic species from milder biomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125006
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • growing-season length, flowering, phenology, phenoperiod, phenophase, Spitsbergen, Svalbard

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