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Will phenotypic plasticity affecting flowering phenology keep pace with climate change?


Linsay Chaney
Shannon M. Still



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Global Change Biology. 23: 2499-2508.


Rising temperatures have begun to shift flowering time, but it is unclear whether phenotypic plasticity can accommodate projected temperature change for this century. Evaluating clines in phenological traits and the extent and variation in plasticity can provide key information on assessing risk of maladaptation and developing strategies to mitigate climate change. In this study, flower phenology was examined in 52 populations of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) growing in three common gardens. Flowering date (anthesis) varied 91 days from late July to late November among gardens. Mixed-effects modeling explained 79% of variation in flowering date, of which 46% could be assigned to plasticity and genetic variation in plasticity and 33% to genetics (conditional R2 = 0.79, marginal R2 = 0.33). Two environmental variables that explained the genetic variation were photoperiod and the onset of spring, the Julian date of accumulating degree-days >5 °C reaching 100. The genetic variation was mapped for contemporary and future climates (decades 2060 and 2090), showing flower date change varies considerably across the landscape. Plasticity was estimated to accommodate, on average, a !13-day change in flowering date. However, the examination of genetic variation in plasticity suggests that the magnitude of plasticity could be affected by variation in the sensitivity to photoperiod and temperature. In a warmer common garden, lower-latitude populations have greater plasticity (+16 days) compared to higher-latitude populations (+10 days). Mapped climatypes of flowering date for contemporary and future climates illustrate the wide breadth of plasticity and large geographic overlap. Our research highlights the importance of integrating information on genetic variation, phenotypic plasticity and climatic niche modeling to evaluate plant responses and elucidate vulnerabilities to climate change.


Richardson, Bryce A.; Chaney, Linsay; Shaw, Nancy L.; Still, Shannon M. 2017. Will phenotypic plasticity affecting flowering phenology keep pace with climate change? Global Change Biology. 23: 2499-2508.


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