Disparate ecological datasets are often organized into databases post hoc and then analyzed and interpreted in ways that may diverge from the purposes of the original data collections. Few studies, however, have attempted to quantify how biases inherent in these data (for example, species richness, replication, climate) affect their suitability for addressing broad scientific questions, especially in under-represented systems (for example, deserts, tropical forests) and wild communities. Here, we quantitatively compare the sensitivity of species first flowering and leafing dates to spring warmth in two phenological databases from the Northern Hemisphere. One-PEP725-has high replication within and across sites, but has low species diversity and spans a limited climate gradient. The other-NECTAR-includes many more species and a wider range of climates, but has fewer sites and low replication of species across sites. PEP725, despite low species diversity and relatively low seasonality, accurately captures the magnitude and seasonality of warming responses at climatically similar NECTAR sites, with most species showing earlier phenological events in response to warming. In NECTAR, the prevalence of temperature responders significantly declines with increasing mean annual temperature, a pattern that cannot be detected across the limited climate gradient spanned by the PEP725 flowering and leafing data. Our results showcase broad areas of agreement between the two databases, despite significant differences in species richness and geographic coverage, while also noting areas where including data across broader climate gradients may provide added value. Such comparisons help to identify gaps in our observations and knowledge base that can be addressed by ongoing monitoring and research efforts. Resolving these issues will be critical for improving predictions in understudied and under-sampled systems outside of the temperature seasonal mid-latitudes. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA).
- climate change
- climate responders