Impacts of Climate Change on Flowering Phenology and Production in Alpine Plants: The Importance of End of Flowering

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Changes in the seasonal timing of plant flowering are hypothesized to alter the number of flowers plants produce, which contributes to reproductive success. However, empirical evidence linking specific aspects of plant flowering phenology to the number of flowers produced is limited, particularly under future global climate change. We used phenology measurements after 2, 3, 6, and 7 years of a fully factorial, climate change field experiment in an alpine meadow pasture on the central Tibetan Plateau to understand: 1) how experimental warming and snow addition affect the date of first and last flowering in related forb and shrub species, Potentilla saundersiana Royle and Potentilla fruticosa L.; and 2) how these changes in the timing of phenological events alter flowering duration and production, as a proxy for reproductive effort. We found that warming significantly advanced the date of first flowering in both P. fruticosa and P. saundersiana, with no other significant effects on flowering duration or production. In contrast to warming, simulated snowstorms delayed the date of first flowering in P. saundersiana, but had no significant effect on P. fruticosa. There were no significant treatment interactions. For both species, flower production increased as the last date of flowering occurred later. These results indicate that as climate change alters alpine plant phenology, advances in the timing of first flowering alone will not necessarily translate to increases in flowering duration and enhanced reproductive effort. Instead, these findings demonstrate the importance of the date of last flowering in mediating plant reproductive effort and success.