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Theor. Appl. Climatol.

81, 169176 (2005)

DOI 10.1007/s00704-004-0120-1

Department of Plant Biology and Agroenvironmental Biotechnology, University of Perugia, Italy

Olive flowering as an indicator of local climatic changes

F. Orlandi, L. Ruga, B. Romano, and M. Fornaciari

With 6 Figures

Received September 15, 2003; revised August 31, 2004; accepted October 10, 2004
Published online February 22, 2005 # Springer-Verlag 2005

Summary have reported that during the last decades the

In recent years many studies on climate change and its annual mean temperature of the Mediterranean
impacts have been published. In this investigation the flow- basin has increase more than the average glob-
ering of the olive tree (Olea europaea L.) in central Italy al increase. Climatic variation is indicated by
was related to climate and its usefulness as a bio-indicator changes in the mean values of the main weather
for climatic change has been studied. parameters, such as temperature and rainfall. In
An aerobiological method was used to determine the flow-
ering periods in each of 22 study years (19822003), and five
addition, Mearns et al. (1997) noted that changes
yearly target dates in correspondence to different flowering in temperature and precipitation along with a
phases were selected. greater frequency of weather extremes (freezing,
Climatic trends were studied through heat summations drought, hail, etc.) have had serious effects on
(daily maximum, minimum and average temperatures) from agricultural yield. Since the phenological rhythm
1 January to the annual day of full flowering; moreover of each species depends on seasonal meteorolog-
Growing Degree Days (GDD) and Chilling Units (CU) were
carried out since 1 January to 25 conventional dates in the ical trends, climatic changes in the future may
pre-flowering period. cause changes in species distribution, as well as
Statistical analyses were carried out to study the relation- time shifts in the onset of various phenophases
ships among climatic trends (expressed by GDD and CU) with probable consequences on crop productiv-
and the flowering phases. The principal result may be re- ity. In this way, phyto-phenology could provide
presented by the close relationship between climate and re-
productive phenology to consider olive flowering as a good
some indirect information about the principal
indicator of climatic changes. climate trends (Menzel and Fabian, 1999;
Chmielewski and Rotzer, 2001).
Recent studies indicate that the spring-time
temperatures in northern Europe have increased
1. Introduction
during the last century. As a consequence, the
Since the 1980s, climatic variations and global initiation of phenological phases such as leaf for-
warming trends and the consequent hydrological mation and flowering have occurred earlier in
changes have been studied by the scientific world many species (Schwartz, 1999). In the last 50
(IPCC, 1990, 1992). years, the duration of the vegetative period has
Since 1900 the global and European annual increased by 13.3 days which is confirmed by an
mean air temperatures have increased by 0.3 earlier onset of the phenological phases in the
0.6  C (IPCC, 1998). Rambal and Hoff (1998) spring.
170 F. Orlandi et al.

In such studies several thermal parameters (19822003); olive pollen levels were analysed
(Growing Degree Days GDD, Growing Degree using an aerobiological method described in ear-
Hours GDH and Chilling Units CU) are usu- lier works (Galan et al., 2001; Fornaciari et al.,
ally calculated as a function of seasonal trends 2002). The olive pollen was collected using a
to explain the behaviour of the crop in relation- pollen trap (VPPS 2000 Lanzoni model) made
ship to the climatic trends of the environment, up of two parts: a lower fixed part, and an upper
as well as to estimate the duration of the crop mobile one which has a small aperture through
cycle and predict the date when the crop will be which the airborne materials enter, by being
mature. sucked in with a constant air flow volume
Using data from France, Spain, Portugal, (10 l=min). The pollen content in the atmosphere
Algeria, Israel and Greece, Osborne et al. was observed and measured through microscopic
(2000b) found that the flowering date in olive analyses, by determining the olive pollen grain
is an indicator for climate warming. In this study concentration per cubic metre of air. These data
data from another a Mediterranean area, central were then expressed as hourly, daily or weekly
Italy, was used to check this phenomenon. Olives pollen concentrations.
can grow between the 30 45 latitudes in both In the literature, daily average pollen concen-
the northern and southern hemispheres, but are trations are used to determine the quantitative
found principally in the Mediterranean basin char- standard parameters such as the pollen index
acterized by warm and dry summers (Dallman, (Ip sum of the total pollen concentrations dur-
1998). The Olive could therefore be used as a ing flowering) or critical flowering dates (first or
bio-indicator for the whole Mediterranean maximum pollen emission days).
region. In this study, the days on which the maximum
In the Mediterranean basin, olive flowers pollen concentrations were recorded (peaks of
between April and June which is later than most pollen emission) and other flowering target
other tree species. This later date allows olive to dates (expressed as the number of days from 1
meet the requirements of an ample accumulation January JD) were considered. These dates were
of heat units during the growing season. Yearly determined based on the partial summations of
temperature variations control the timing of the the daily pollen concentrations. The partial pol-
flowering period (Chuine et al., 1998). len summations were considered as the 5, 10, 20,
Recent studies have used a pollen monitoring 50 and 70 percent levels of the total annual pol-
methodology to record pollen release in olive, a len count. The first two percentages (510) were
typical anemophilous species. The aerobiological calculated to determine the dates of the initial
and phenological data were collected over a large flowering phases in the olive groves, the next
area (radius of about 50 km) in an attempt to two percentages (2050) were calculated to
overcome the typical phenological problem of a determine the full flowering phase in olive, while
limited study area. The pollen quantities that the last dates, associated with the 70% value of
were monitored were used to interpret regional the total yearly pollen emission, accounted for the
variations in the reproductive phases in response final flowering phases.
to the climate, while particular local events asso- From a climatic point of view, the yearly heat
ciated with micro-climates were not considered. summations based on the daily thermal values
Pollen monitoring of wild and cultivated species (maximum, minimum and average temperatures)
may be used to correlate phenological phenom- from 1 January until the annual maximum pollen
ena with climatic characteristics considering the peaks (full flowering) were calculated in order to
close relationship between the environmental fac- determine the variations in the heat requirements,
tors and biological response (Osborne, 2000a, in a given time series for, at a constant ontologi-
2000b). cal phase (flowering).
The commonly used climatic parameters,
GDD (McMaster and Wilhelm, 1997) and CU
2. Materials and methods
were determined. These parameters were calcu-
A large area surrounding the city of Perugia lated daily from 1 January to 25 different dates
(central Italy) was monitored for 22 years during the first six months of the year in an
Olive flowering as an indicator of local climatic changes 171

attempt to objectively interpret the principal cli- 25 different dates and the 5 flowering target dates
matic trends during the considered period. The (in JD) in an attempt ascertain the relationships
25 dates were chosen on the basis of 5-day inter- between meteorological trends and plant behav-
vals from February 1 to June 1. iour. In addition a regression analysis was car-
The GDD was calculated by ried out on the most significant meteorological
  parameters considering the flowering target dates
GDD  T threshold; as the dependent variable.
The meteorological data were obtained from
with a threshold of 5  C: the weather station of the Central Ecological
The CU was calculated according to the Office in Perugia (Italy).
Utah method (Richardson et al., 1974). In this
method, a thermal range was chosen (39  C) in 3. Results and discussion
which the maximum chilling value was recorded The yearly heat summations calculated in corre-
if out of this temperature range, either higher and spondence to the various peaks of pollen emission
lower, the chilling effect was reduced. The math- are reported in Fig. 1. The annual heat require-
ematical model uses hourly positive and negative ments in olive are quite homogeneous, particularly
values to construct a curve which optimises the when average temperature is considered. These
chilling effect linked to weighed values re- results are of particular interest considering the
lated to each temperature. In accordance with the relationship between flowering dates and climate
mathematical model, the CU values were: changes. The flowering phenomenon in olive ap-
0 for T<1:4  C; 1 for T>19:5  C and pears to be significantly related to constant heat re-
quirements expressed over in the whole time series.
1 for T 5:2  C:
The climatic factors recorded in this study are
To study the effect of climate on olive flowering, expressed as the GDD and CU amounts (Fig. 2).
the best GDD and CU thresholds for full flowering A warming trend can be noted in the marked
phase (70% pollen concentration) were first calcu- variations in the latter years. The CU amounts,
lated, for all the years, using the Root Mean Square depicted in the upper graph show a clear decreas-
Error (RMSE) statistical method. The time series ing trend particularly from 1996. The lower CU
with the dates (JD) on which the thresholds were amounts are due to higher minimum temperature
achieved in each year were then plotted. values. During the same period, the GDD values
Correlation analyses were conducted among showed an increasing trend, although not as
the annual GDD-CU amounts calculated for the marked as the preceding chilling phenomenon.

Fig. 1. Heat summations ( daily

minimum, maximum and average
temperatures) from 1 January to the
annual maximum pollen concentration
172 F. Orlandi et al.

Fig. 2. Thermal trends (GDD and CU) calcu-

lated from 1982 to 2003 for 25 days measured
every 5 days

The five flowering target dates based on the the first interval, the JD which corresponded
various percentages of total pollen emission are to flowering occurred over a large range and
shown in Fig. 3. Three main sub-trends can be showed a constant trend. In the two other
observed which correspond to the periods periods, the target dates gave a steeper slope
19821991, 19921995 and 19962003. In with an earlier flowering in the final years.
Olive flowering as an indicator of local climatic changes 173

Fig. 3. Dates of different flowering percentage targets from 1982 to 2003

Fig. 4. CU and GDD values until 1

June in the study period with trend

These results support the hypothesis that dur- the CU and GDD values, the thermal components
ing the last decade, particular phenological in the chilling and heat effects become evi-
trends appeared which were probably linked dent. In Fig. 3, the steeper slope of the sub-trend
to climatic variations. for the period from 19962003, may be princi-
The time trends of the GDD-CU values calcu- pally related to the thermal chilling effect
lated from 1 January until 1 June (average date of (variations of the chilling units).
the local olive flowering) are shown in Fig. 4. The The average CU and GDD values are reported
climatic trend is evident in both the GDD and CU for the three principal periods shown in Fig. 4
values. The CU values are listed in decreasing along with the percentage differences among them.
order, while the GDD values show an increasing From 1982 to 1991, the average CU and GDD
trend. By introducing polynomial trend lines into amounts were 1168 and 1359, respectively while
174 F. Orlandi et al.

in the second period (19921996) they were parison to the second period, while the average
1002 and 1436, respectively with a 14% decrease GDD values increased 8% (1555).
in the CU values and a 5% increase in the GDD The effect of climate on olive flowering was
values. In the third period (19972003), the aver- carried out on the best GDD (1434) and CU
age CU amounts decreased 24% (759) in com- (996) values for full flowering over all the years

Fig. 5. Calendar dates on which the

best GDD and CU thresholds for full
flowering were recorded for each

Fig. 6. Regression analysis between last flowering percentage target (>70%) and CU from Jan 1 to 1 June as independent
Olive flowering as an indicator of local climatic changes 175

and permitted to plot the time series (JD) on In the study area, after May the physiological
which the threshold values were determined response of the plant (formation of tetrad pollen
(Fig. 5). The figure shows as both CU and and bi-nucleate pollen) become very sensitive to
GDD threshold values are realized earlier in the small increments in heat amounts because the
last years in accordance with the phenomenon heat demand for flowering is nearly fulfilled.
interpreted by the flowering dates. Some researchers (Moonen et al., 2001) con-
Statistically the highest correlation value firmed that in relation to the climate, the changes
(r>0.8) was observed among the five flowering are mainly due to an increase in the minimum
target dates and the thermal amounts (GDD and temperatures rather than to changes in the max-
CU) when the final thermal amounts (1 June) and imum temperatures. The climatic and phenologi-
the flowering target dates were considered. These cal trend from 1996, in the study area, was
results indicate that the flowering phenomena are characterized by lower chilling unit values.
dependent on the thermal trends, in particular the The influence of chilling in olive as a highly
highest correlations were obtained when the ther- demonstrated dormancy regulator and the capac-
mal amounts were calculated using a final date of ity of the chilling unit formula used (Utah model)
summation after May. to interpret both chilling effect and chilling
The regression analysis which used the last negation (heat amount) explain the significant
flowering target date (>70%) as the dependent results of CU applied to the olive species.
variable and the annual CU amounts calculated
on 1 June as the independent variable (the most
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