Community Phenology

David W. Inouye and Amy M. McKinney

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Community Phenology

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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Phenology is the study of the timing of seasonal events. The Greek root phainomai means to appear, and the most commonly used metric of phenology is timing of first appearance. Humans have been recording phenological events perhaps back to the time of hunter and gatherer societies for the purpose of tracking availability of important resources. For example, the common name of some Amelanchier (Rosaceae) species is shadbush, because their flowering was an indicator of the timing of shad spawning runs in local rivers in eastern North America. Phenology is applied in agriculture; an old farmer’s saying is to plant corn when oak leaves are as large as a squirrel’s ear. Phenology comprises the basic biology of ecological communities, because the timing of life stages of various organisms determines the potential for interspecific interactions and the duration of their overlap within the community. Phenology has garnered increasing attention, because it is one of the best ways to assess the impacts of climate change. This is because environmental cues, such as snowmelt or growing degree days, are commonly used by organisms to time life-history events, such as emergence from hibernation, beginning of the growing season, and flowering or migration dates. In addition, phenological data are typically simple to collect, and citizen scientists are increasingly contributing data via infrastructure established by scientific networks of observers in several countries. Although many studies have focused on individual species, there are significant advantages to adopting a multispecies, or community, perspective. As studies have begun to consider multiple interacting species, it has become clear that a community perspective on phenology is vital to understanding how ecological communities will be impacted by climate change, which can break down the historical synchrony of interacting species. Species with mutualistic relationships, such as pollination, and antagonistic relationships, such as herbivory or predation, have typically coevolved many traits, including phenology. Migratory predators arriving after the period of availability of prey items or herbivores that have lost temporal synchrony with their host plants are unlikely to succeed. Species whose reproductive periods are longer than the availability of any single resource are dependent on the phenology of multiple species for their success—for example, a bumblebee colony that must have access to multiple species of flowers blooming across the growing season. Because of the flourish of publishing activity on phenology and climate change, most late-20th- and early 21st-century phenological research entails a climate change perspective.

Article.  14284 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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