"We also found that earlier-flowering non-native species had greater geographic spread, suggesting that flowering earlier may help promote successful establishment across large areas," said the study's lead author Meredith Zettlemoyer, a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, where Lau was previously on faculty.

The findings suggest important differences in how native and non-native plant species' respond to climate change. Because other studies have shown that species which failed to shift their flowering times over the past century were more likely to decline in abundance or go extinct, native species may be more susceptible to climate change than non-natives species.

"Species across the globe are showing us that the climate is changing in ways that affect them," Lau said. "Flowering earlier in the spring is a big sign that the climate is changing and may be a key strategy for surviving climate change. Maybe the native species that aren't very good at blooming earlier under warmer temperatures possess other strategies for surviving climate change, but if they don't, they could be in serious danger."

This study was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted at Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research Program, which studies the ecology of intensive field crop ecosystems as part of a national network of Long-Term Ecological Research sites established by the NSF.

Prepared for Environmental Change

The Environmental Resilience Institute, founded as part of Indiana University's Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative, brings together a broad, bipartisan coalition of government, business, nonprofit and community leaders to help Indiana better prepare for the challenges that environmental changes bring to our economy, health and livelihood. Announced in May 2017, Prepared for Environmental Change is working to deliver tailored and actionable solutions to communities across the state of Indiana.

What others are saying

"In this study, native plants were unresponsive to climate warming, whereas non-native species shifted their flowering earlier," said Colette St. Mary, a program director for Long-Term Ecological Research at the NSF. "Non-natives may gain an advantage as climate change proceeds."