Eastern deciduous tree seedlings advance spring phenology in response to experimental warming, but not wetting, treatments

Margot W. Kaye, Rebekah J. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Changing global climate, particularly rising temperatures, has been linked through observations with advanced spring phenology in temperate regions. We experimentally tested if regional climate change predictions of increased temperature and precipitation alter the spring phenology of eastern US tree seedlings. This study reports the results of a 3-year-field experiment designed to study the responses of eastern deciduous tree species planted in a post-harvest environment to a 2 °C increase in temperature and a 20 % increase in precipitation. Species were monitored for timing of germination and leaf out in four treatment combinations (ambient, warmed, irrigated, and warmed + irrigated) on 16 plots located in a recently harvested central Pennsylvania forest. The 2 °C warming advanced day of seed germination by an average of 2 weeks and seedling leaf out by 10 days among all species (both p < 0.001). However, increased precipitation did not result in a significant change in spring phenology. Species responded uniquely to treatments, with germination advancing in three of five species in response to warming and leaf out advancing in six of six species. Southern species projected to expand northward into the study region with rising temperatures did not show responses to warming treatments that would provide them an advantage over current resident species. Timing of germination and leaf out varied among years of the experiment, most likely driven by year-to-year variability in spring temperatures. The climate change experiment highlighted the potential of a moderate 2 °C temperature increase to advance spring phenology of deciduous tree seedlings by up to 2 weeks, with a lack of a phenological response to a 20 % increase in precipitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)543-554
Number of pages12
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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