The mechanisms of phenology: the patterns and processes of phenological shifts

Helen E. Chmura, Heather M. Kharouba, Jaime Ashander, Sean M. Ehlman, Emily B. Rivest and Louie H. Yang


Species across a wide‐range of taxa and habitats are shifting phenological events in response to climate change. While advances are common, shifts vary in magnitude and direction within and among species, and the basis for this variation is relatively unknown. We examine previously suggested patterns of variation in phenological shifts in order to understand the cue‐response mechanisms that underlie phenological change. Here, we review what is known about the mechanistic basis for nine factors proposed to predict phenological change (latitude, elevation, habitat type, trophic level, migratory strategy, ecological specialization, species’ seasonality, thermoregulatory mode, and generation time). We find that many studies either do not identify a specific underlying mechanism or do not evaluate alternative mechanistic hypotheses, limiting the ability of scientists to predict future responses to global change with accuracy. We present a conceptual framework that emphasizes a critical distinction between environmental (cue‐driven) and organismal (response‐driven) mechanisms causing variation in phenological shifts and discuss how this distinction can reduce confusion in the field and improve predictions of future phenological change.

Ecological Monographs