Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2005
Within the last decade the study of phenology has taken on new importance because of its contribution to climate-change research. However, phenology data sets spanning many years are rare in the tropics, making it difficult to evaluate possible responses of tropical communities to climate change. Here we use two data sets (1970–1983 and 1990–2002) to describe the fruiting patterns of the tropical tree community in Kibale National Park, Uganda. To address variation in spatial patterns, we describe fruiting over 2–3 y among four sites each separated by 12–15 km. Presently, the Kibale region is receiving c. 300 mm more rain than it did at the start of the century, droughts are less frequent, the onset of the rainy season is earlier, and the average maximum monthly temperature is 3.5 °C hotter than it was 25 y ago. The 1990–2002 phenology data illustrated high temporal variability in the proportion of the populations fruiting. Interannual variation in community-wide fruit availability was also high; however, the proportion of trees that fruited has increased over the past 12+y. At the species level a variety of patterns were exhibited; however, a number of the most common species currently rarely fruit, and when they do, typically <4% of the individuals take part in fruiting events. Combining the data set from 1990 to 2002 with that from 1970 to 1983 for specific species again reveals an increase in the proportion of trees fruiting between 1990 and 2002; however, the proportion of the populations fruiting decreased during the earlier period. When one examines particular species over this whole period a variety of patterns are evident. For example, Pouteria altissima exhibited a relatively regular pattern of fruiting during the 1970s; however, it rarely fruited in the 1990s. Contrasting phenological patterns at four sites revealed that at the community level the fruiting patterns of only one of the six pair-wise site combinations were correlated. Relationships between rainfall and fruiting were variable among sites. Contrasting changes in fruiting patterns over the 30 y with differences among the four sites varying in rainfall, suggests that the changes observed in fruiting may be due to climate change. Responses to this climate change are likely complex and will vary among species. However, for some species, current conditions appear unsuitable for fruiting.