Habitat-specific responses in the flowering phenology and seed set of alpine plants to climate variation: implications for global-change impacts
The timing of the snowmelt is a crucial factor in determining the phenological schedule of alpine plants. A long-term monitoring of snowmelt regimes in a Japanese alpine area revealed that the onset of the snowmelt season has been accelerated during the last 17 years in early snowmelt sites but that such a trend has not been detected in late snowmelt sites. This indicates that the global warming effect on the snowmelt pattern may be site-specific. The flowering phenology of fellfield plants in an exposed wind-blown habitat was consistent between an unusually warm year (1998) and a normal year (2001). In contrast, the flowering occurrence of snowbed plants varied greatly between the years depending on the snowmelt time. There was a large number of flowering species in the fellfield community from mid- to late to late June and from mid- to late July. The flowering peak of an early-melt snowbed plant community was in the middle of the flowering season and that of a late-melt snowbed community was in the early flowering season. These habitat-specific phenological patterns were consistent between 1998 and 2001. The effects of the variation in flowering timing on seed-set success were evaluated for an entomophilous snowbed herb, Peucedanum multivittatum, along the snowmelt gradient during a 5-year period. When flowering occurred prior to early August, mean temperature during the flowering season positively influenced the seed set. When flowering occurred later than early August, however, the plants enjoyed high seed-set success irrespective of temperature conditions if frost damage was absent. These observations are probably explained based on the availability of pollinators, which depends not only on ambient temperature but also on seasonal progress. These results suggest that the effects of climate change on biological interaction may vary depending on the specific habitat in the alpine ecosystem in which diverse snowmelt patterns create complicated seasonality for plants within a very localized area.