Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half century

Author(s): Bell, J.R., Botham, M.S., Henrys, P.A., Leech, D.I., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Shortall, C.R., Brereton, T.M., Pickup, J. & Thackeray, S.J.

Published: February 2019  

Journal: Global Change Biology

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1111/gcb.14592

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Global warming has advanced the timing of biological events, potentially leading to disruption across trophic levels. The potential importance of phenological change as a driver of population trends has been suggested. To fully understand possible impacts, there is a need to quantify the scale of these changes spatially and according to habitat type. We studied the relationship between phenological trends, space and habitat type between 1965 to 2012 using an extensive UK dataset comprising 269 aphid, bird, butterfly and moth species. We modelled phenologies using generalized additive mixed models that included covariates for geographical (latitude, longitude, altitude), temporal (year, season) and habitat terms (woodland, scrub, grassland). Model selection showed that a baseline model with geographical and temporal components explained the variation in phenologies better than either a model in which space and time interacted or a habitat model without spatial terms. This baseline model showed strongly that phenologies shifted progressively earlier over time, that increasing altitude produced later phenologies and that a strong spatial component determined phenological timings, particularly latitude. The seasonal timing of a phenological event, in terms of whether it fell in the first or second half of the year, did not result in substantially different trends for butterflies. For moths, early season phenologies advanced more rapidly than those recorded later. Whilst temporal trends across all habitats resulted in earlier phenologies over time, agricultural habitats produced significantly later phenologies than most other habitats studied, probably because of non‐climatic drivers. A model with a significant habitat‐time interaction was the best‐fitting model for birds, moths and butterflies, emphasising that the rates of phenological advance also differ among habitats for these groups. Our results suggest the presence of strong spatial gradients in mean seasonal timing, and non‐linear trends towards earlier seasonal timing that varies in form and rate among habitat types.
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