Shifting phenology and abundance under experimental warming alters trophic relationships and plant reproductive capacity

Ecology. 2011 Jun;92(6):1201-7. doi: 10.1890/10-2060.1.


Phenological mismatches due to climate change may have important ecological consequences. In a three-year study, phenological shifts due to experimental warming markedly altered trophic relationships between plants and insect herbivores, causing a dramatic decline of reproductive capacity for one of the plant species. In a Tibetan meadow, the gentian (Gentiana formosa) typically flowers after the peak larva density of a noctuid moth (Melanchra pisi) that primarily feeds on a dominant forb (anemone, Anemone trullifolia var. linearis). However, artificial warming of approximately 1.5 degrees C advanced gentian flower phenology and anemone vegetative phenology by a week, but delayed moth larvae emergence by two weeks. The warming increased larval density 10-fold, but decreased anemone density by 30%. The phenological and density shifts under warmed conditions resulted in the insect larvae feeding substantially on the gentian flowers and ovules; there was approximately 100-fold more damage in warmed than in unwarmed chambers. This radically increased trophic connection reduced gentian plant reproduction and likely contributed to its reduced abundance in the warmed chambers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anemone / parasitology
  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Flowers / parasitology
  • Gentiana / parasitology*
  • Gentiana / physiology
  • Global Warming*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Larva / physiology
  • Moths / physiology*
  • Reproduction
  • Tibet