Animals and plants are shifting the timing of key life events in response to climate change, yet despite recent documentation of escalating phenological change, scientists lack a full understanding of how and why phenological responses vary across space and among species. Here, we used over 7 million community-contributed bird observations to derive species-specific, spatially explicit estimates of annual spring migration phenology for 56 bird species across eastern North America. We show that changes in the spring arrival of migratory birds are coarsely synchronized with fluctuations in vegetation green-up and that the sensitivity of birds to plant phenology varied extensively. Bird arrival responded more synchronously with vegetation green-up at higher latitudes, where phenological shifts over time are also greater. Critically, species’ migratory traits explained variation in sensitivity to green-up, with species that migrate more slowly, arrive earlier and overwinter further north showing greater responsiveness to earlier springs. Identifying how and why species vary in their ability to shift phenological events is fundamental to predicting species’ vulnerability to climate change. Such variation in sensitivity across taxa, with long-distance neotropical migrants exhibiting reduced synchrony, may help to explain substantial declines in these species over the last several decades.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics