Warming and precipitation addition interact to affect plant spring phenology in alpine meadows on the central Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Authors: Hasbagan Ganjurjav, Elise S.Gornish, Guozheng Hu, Mark W.Schwartz, Yunfan Wan, Yue Li, Qingzhu Gao

Temperature and precipitation are primary regulators of plant phenology. However, our knowledge of how these factors might interact to affect plant phenology is incomplete. The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, a cold and high region, has experienced no consistent changes in spring phenology, despite a significant warming trend. We conducted a manipulative experiment of warming and precipitation addition in an alpine meadow on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in 2015 (cold and wet), 2016 (warm and dry) and 2017 (mild and very wet). We found that warming increased annual variability of plant spring phenology. Warming delayed green up of all monitored species in 2016, advanced green up of early flowering species in 2015, and did not alter green up in 2017. For example, green up of the shallow rooted Kobresia pygmaea advanced 8 (± 2) days in 2015 and was delayed by 23 (± 3) days in a dry year (2016) under warming compared with control. Early spring precipitation addition can offset the delaying effects of warming in a dry year on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Under warming plus precipitation addition, community average green up advanced compared to control plots in 2015 and 2016, and community average flowering advanced for all three years. In 2016, flowering of K. pygmaea (an early flowering species) advanced under warming plus precipitation addition compared to control while flowering of other species did not change. Our results highlight that annual variation of soil moisture condition plays a critical role in determining the magnitude and direction of spring phenology response to warming. We provide insights in how plant spring phenology might change in a warmer future in the presence or absence of precipitation increase.

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