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Spring flowering trends in Alberta, Canada: response to climate change, urban heat island effects, and an evaluation of a citizen science network Open Access


Other title
spring flowering phenology and climate in central Alberta
urban heat island in Edmonton Alberta
citizen science protocols and PlantWatch
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Beaubien,Elisabeth G
Supervisor and department
Hamann, Andreas (Renewable Resources)
Examining committee member and department
Erbilgin, Nadir (Renewable Resources)
Inouye, David (Biology Department University of Maryland)
Landhausser, Simon (Renewable Resources)
MacDonald, Ellen (Renewable Resources)
Chang, Scott (Renewable Resources)
Department of Renewable Resources
Forest Biology and Management
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
In documenting biological response to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used phenology studies from many parts of the world, but data from high latitudes of North America are scarce. This thesis reports climate trends and corresponding changes in sequential bloom times for seven plant species in the central parklands of Alberta, Canada (52–57° north latitude). The data span seven decades (1936–2006), drawing on historic Agriculture Canada data, observations by the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and the Alberta PlantWatch program in both urban and rural areas of central Alberta. An analysis of historical weather station data revealed a substantial warming signal over the study period (1936–2006), which ranged from +5.3°C for mean monthly temperature in February to +1.5°C in May. The earliest blooming species (Populus tremuloides and Anemone patens) advanced their bloom dates by two weeks over seven decades, while the later species advanced their bloom dates between zero and six days. Early-blooming species advanced faster than predicted by thermal time models, which may be due to decreased diurnal temperature fluctuations. This unexpectedly sensitive response resulted in an increased exposure to late spring frosts. A criticism by climate change skeptics is that the observed warming signal is an artifact of the increasing heat island effect of growing cities. The current dataset offered the opportunity to test this claim due to the spatially and temporally extensive phenology database. The data indeed show an increasing heat island effect over the period 1931–2006 in both weather station data and plant phenology response. Across all seven plant species, the advance in phenology observed in Edmonton was 2.1 days (±0.9 SE) greater than in the surrounding rural areas over the last 70 years. This accounted for one third of the general warming signal, while the remaining advance of 3.7 days observed in rural settings was attributed to climate change. Finally, as guidance for those initiating new observer networks, an analysis of factors that determined the quality of the PlantWatch phenological data was carried out. The thesis concludes with recommendations for effective volunteer training, observer motivation, and program protocols.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Beaubien E., Hamann, A. 2011. Spring flowering response to climate change between 1936 and 2006 in Alberta, Canada. BioScience 61: 514–524.Beaubien E., Hamann, A. 2011. Plant phenology networks of citizen scientists: recommendations from two decades of experience in Canada. International Journal of Biometeorology. 55 (6) 833-841.

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