Effects of climate change and invasive plants on autumn phenology in Massachusetts, USA
Gallinat, Amanda Shea
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The timing of biological events in autumn, or autumn phenology, is an important factor in many ecosystem processes. Leaf senescence terminates the growing season, fruiting is important for seed dispersal and frugivorous wildlife, bird migration concludes the breeding season and is a high-mortality event, and insect diapause ends the active season for insects. Climate change and the spread of invasive species have the potential to shift autumn events and ecological processes. However, autumn has been neglected in the phenology literature, and there are many gaps in our knowledge of basic phenological patterns in this season, as well as how they are affected by anthropogenic changes. To address these gaps, I first synthesized the literature on how climate change affects autumn phenology. I found that shifts in autumn phenology can alter reproductive capacities, exacerbate invasions, increase disease transmission rates, reshuffle enemy-prey dynamics, and alter interactions between species. With a focus on autumn interactions between birds and fleshy-fruited plants, my colleagues and I then observed patterns of fruit phenology, using herbarium specimens of 55 species collected across New England, and over 400 species in the living collections of 5 international botanical gardens. Last, I monitored fleshy fruit phenology and abundance at Manomet, a migratory stopover site in coastal Massachusetts, and compared those patterns to seeds identified from landbird fecal samples collected across the autumn season. I found that the sequence of fruiting is moderately consistent from year to year and place to place, and has a significant phylogenetic signal. In wild plants, invasive species fruit, on average, nearly one month later than native species. Considering many landbirds are migrating through New England later over time and in warm years, this suggests birds are increasingly likely to encounter invasive fruits during late-autumn migration. However, bird diets do not reflect the increased availability of invasive fruits in late-autumn; rather, birds show a preference for native fleshy fruits throughout the autumn season. These findings add to our knowledge of how climate change and species invasions affect autumn synchrony, and highlight the importance of native, rather than invasive, fruits as a food source for migratory landbirds.