Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Impacts of experimental warming and fire on phenology of subalpine open-heath species

Frith C. Jarrad A D , Carl-Henrik Wahren B , Richard J. Williams C and Mark A. Burgman A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A The School of Botany, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

B Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology, LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Vic. 3086, Australia.

C CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 56(8) 617-629
Submitted: 31 January 2008  Accepted: 10 November 2008   Published: 15 December 2008


The present study examined experimentally the phenological responses of a range of plant species to rises in temperature. We used the climate-change field protocol of the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX), which measures plant responses to warming of 1 to 2°C inside small open-topped chambers. The field study was established on the Bogong High Plains, Australia, in subalpine open heathlands; the most common treeless plant community on the Bogong High Plains. The study included areas burnt by fire in 2003, and therefore considers the interactive effects of warming and fire, which have rarely been studied in high mountain environments. From November 2003 to March 2006, various phenological phases were monitored inside and outside chambers during the snow-free periods. Warming resulted in earlier occurrence of key phenological events in 7 of the 14 species studied. Burning altered phenology in 9 of 10 species studied, with both earlier and later phenological changes depending on the species. There were no common phenological responses to warming or burning among species of the same family, growth form or flowering type (i.e. early or late-flowering species), when all phenological events were examined. The proportion of plants that formed flower buds was influenced by fire in half of the species studied. The findings support previous findings of ITEX and other warming experiments; that is, species respond individualistically to experimental warming. The inter-year variation in phenological response, the idiosyncratic nature of the responses to experimental warming among species, and an inherent resilience to fire, may result in community resilience to short-term climate change. In the first 3 years of experimental warming, phenological responses do not appear to be driving community-level change. Our findings emphasise the value of examining multiple species in climate-change studies.


This research was funded through an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LP0348897), the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Parks Victoria, CSIRO, ESLink Services Pty Ltd, and Mt Hotham Resort Management. We would like to thank Carolyn Blomley, Cherie Campbell, Deborah Cargill, Seraphena Cutler, Katherine Giljohann, Lauren Kiem, Danielle Ryan, Paul Smart, Clare Warren and Emma Warren and for their assistance in collecting field data. Thanks also go to Warwick Papst for his role in facilitating the ITEX project, and to reviewers for comments on this manuscript.


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