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American Journal of Botany






Botanical Society of America

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  • Premise of the study: Most alpine plants in the Northeast United States are perennial and flower early in the growing season, extending their limitedgrowing season. Concurrently, they risk the loss of reproductive efforts to late frosts. Quantifying long-term trends in northeastern alpine flower phenology and late-spring/early-summer frost risk is limited by a dearth of phenology and climate data, except for Mount Washington, New Hampshire (1916 m a.s.l.).
  • Methods: Logistic phenology models for three northeastern US alpinespecies (Diapensia lapponica, Carex bigelowii and Vaccinium vitis-idaea) were developed from 4 yr (2008–2011) of phenology and air temperature measurements from 12 plots proximate to Mount Washington’s long-term summit meteorological station. Plot-level air temperature, the logistic phenology models, and Mount Washington’s climate data were used to hindcast model yearly (1935–2011) floral phenology and frost damage risk for the focal species.
  • Key results: Day of year and air growing degree-days with threshold temperatures of −4°C (D. lapponica and C. bigelowii) and −2°C (V. vitis-idaea) best predicted flowering. Modeled historic flowering dates trended significantly earlier but the 77-yr change was small (1.2–2.1 d) and did not significantly increase early-flowering risk from late-spring/early-summer frost damage.
  • Conclusions: Modeled trends in phenological advancement and sensitivity for three northeastern alpine species are less pronounced compared with lower elevations in the region, and this small shift in flower timing did not increase risk of frost damage. Potential reasons for limited earlier phenological advancement at higher elevations include a slower warming trend and increased cloud exposure with elevation and/or inadequate chilling requirements.

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