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Flowering phenology shifts in response to biodiversity loss


Observational studies and experimental evidence agree that rising global temperatures have altered plant phenology-the timing of life events, such as flowering, germination, and leaf-out. Other large-scale global environmental changes, such as nitrogen deposition and altered precipitation regimes, have also been linked to changes in flowering times. Despite our increased understanding of how abiotic factors influence plant phenology, we know very little about how biotic interactions can affect flowering times, a significant knowledge gap given ongoing human-caused alteration of biodiversity and plant community structure at the global scale. We experimentally manipulated plant diversity in a California serpentine grassland and found that many plant species flowered earlier in response to reductions in diversity, with peak flowering date advancing an average of 0.6 days per species lost. These changes in phenology were mediated by the effects of plant diversity on soil surface temperature, available soil N, and soil moisture. Peak flowering dates were also more dispersed among species in high-diversity plots than expected based on monocultures. Our findings illustrate that shifts in plant species composition and diversity can alter the timing and distribution of flowering events, and that these changes to phenology are similar in magnitude to effects induced by climate change. Declining diversity could thus contribute to or exacerbate phenological changes attributed to rising global temperatures.

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