With global warming, flowering at many locations has shifted toward earlier dates of bloom. A steady increase in average annual temperature since the late 1890s makes it likely that flowering also has advanced in the northern Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. In this study, phenological models were used to predict annual date of spring bloom in the northern Sonoran Desert from 1894 to 2004; then, herbarium specimens were assessed for objective evidence of the predicted shift in flowering time. The phenological models were derived from known flowering requirements (triggers and heat sums) of Sonoran Desert shrubs. According to the models, flowering might have advanced by 20-41 d from 1894 to 2004. Analysis of herbarium specimens collected during the 20th century supported the model predictions. Over time, there was a significant increase in the proportion of shrub specimens collected in flower in March and a significant decrease in the proportion collected in May. Thus, the flowering curve - the proportion of individuals in flower in each spring month - shifted toward the start of the calendar year between 1900 and 1999. This shift could not be explained by collection activity: collectors showed no tendency to be active earlier in the year as time went on, nor did activity toward the end of spring decline in recent decades. Earlier bloom eventually could have substantial impacts on plant and animal communities in the Sonoran Desert, especially on migratory hummingbirds and population dynamics of shrubs.
Additional publication details
Has climatic warming altered spring flowering date of Sonoran Desert shrubs?