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

Phenological trends among Australian alpine species: using herbarium records to identify climate-change indicators

R. V. Gallagher A B , L. Hughes A and M. R. Leishman A

A Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 57(1) 1-9
Submitted: 23 March 2008  Accepted: 15 December 2008   Published: 23 March 2009


Global temperatures are increasing at an unprecedented rate and the analysis of long-term phenological records has provided some of the most compelling evidence for the effect of these changes on species. In regions where systematically collected data on the timing of life-cycle events is scarce, such as Australia, researchers must seek alternative sources of information from which climate-change signals can be identified. In the present paper, we explore the limitations and strengths of using herbarium specimens to detect changes in flowering phenology, to select potential indicator species, and to pinpoint locations for potential monitoring schemes of native plants in Australia’s subalpine and alpine zone. We selected 20 species on the basis of a range of selection criteria, including a flowering duration of 3 months or less and the number of herbarium records available in the areas above 1500 m. By the use of gridded temperature data within the study region, we identified an increase in mean annual temperature of 0.74°C between 1950 and 2007. We then matched the spatial locations of the herbarium specimens to these temperature data and, by using linear regression models, identified five species whose flowering response may be sensitive to temperature. Higher mean annual temperatures at the point of collection were negatively associated with earlier flowering in each of these species (α = 0.05). We also found a significant (P = 0.02) negative relationship between year and flowering observation for Alpine groundsel, Senecio pectinatus var. major. This species is potentially a suitable candidate for monitoring responses of species to future climate change, owing to the accessibility of populations and its conspicuous flowers. It is also likely that with ongoing warming the other four species identified (Colobanthus affinis, Ewartia nubigena, Prasophyllum tadgellianum and Wahlenbergia ceracea) in the present study may show the same response.


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