The likely phenological responses of plants to climate warming can be measured through experimental manipulation of field sites, but results are rarely validated against year-to-year changes in climate. Here, we describe the response of 1-5 years of experimental warming on phenology (budding, flowering and seed maturation) of six common subalpine plant species in the Australian Alps using the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) protocol.2. Phenological changes in some species (particularly the forb Craspedia jamesii) were detected in experimental plots within a year of warming, whereas changes in most other species (the forb Erigeron bellidioides, the shrub Asterolasia trymalioides and the graminoids Carex breviculmis and Poa hiemata) did not develop until after 2-4 years; thus, there appears to be a cumulative effect of warming for some species across multiple years.3. There was evidence of changes in the length of the period between flowering and seed maturity in one species (P. hiemata) that led to a similar timing of seed maturation, suggesting compensation.4. Year-to-year variation in phenology was greater than variation between warmed and control plots and could be related to differences in thawing degree days (particularly, for E. bellidioides) due to earlier timing of budding and other events under warmer conditions. However, in Carex breviculmis, there was no association between phenology and temperature changes across years.5. These findings indicate that, although phenological changes occurred earlier in response to warming in all six species, some species showed buffered rather than immediate responses.6. Synthesis. Warming in ITEX open-top chambers in the Australian Alps produced earlier budding, flowering and seed set in several alpine species. Species also altered the timing of these events, particularly budding, in response to year-to-year temperature variation. Some species responded immediately, whereas in others the cumulative effects of warming across several years were required before a response was detected.
- Subalpine plants
- Temperature variation