Analyzing a phenological anomaly in Yucca of the southwestern United States

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Yucca in the American desert Southwest typically flowers in early spring, but a well-documented anomalous bloom event occurred during an unusually cold and wet late fall and early winter 2018-2019. We used community science photographs to generate flowering presence and absence data. We fit phenoclimatic models to determine which climate variables are explanatory for normal flowering, and then we tested if the same conditions that drive normal blooming also drove the anomalous blooming event. Flowering for Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree) and Yucca schidigera (Mojave yucca) is driven by complex, nonlinear interactions between daylength, temperature, and precipitation. To our surprise, early-season flowering odds are highest in colder and drier conditions, especially for Joshua trees, but increase with precipitation late-season. However, the models used to fit normal blooming overpredicted the number of anomalous blooms compared to what was actually observed. Thus, predicting anomalous flowering events remains a challenge for quantitative phenological models. Because our model overpredicted the number of anomalous blooms, there are likely other factors, such as biotic interactions or other seasonal factors, which may be especially important in controlling what is presumed to be rare, out-of-season flowering in desert-adapted Yucca.

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Scientific reports

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