Advancing frost dates have reduced frost risk among most North American angiosperms since 1980.
In recent decades, the final frost dates of winter have advanced throughout North America, and many angiosperm taxa have simultaneously advanced their flowering times as the climate has warmed. Phenological advancement may reduce plant fitness, as flowering prior to the final frost date of the winter/spring transition may damage flower buds or open flowers, limiting fruit and seed production. The risk of floral exposure to frost in the recent past and in the future, however, also depends on whether the last day of winter frost is advancing more rapidly, or less rapidly, than the date of onset of flowering in response to climate warming. This study presents the first continental-scale assessment of recent changes in frost risk to floral tissues, using digital records of 475,694 herbarium specimens representing 1,653 angiosperm species collected across North America from 1920 to 2015. For most species, among sites from which they have been collected, dates of last frost have advanced much more rapidly than flowering dates. As a result, frost risk has declined in 66% of sampled species. Moreover, exotic species consistently exhibit lower frost risk than native species, primarily because the former occupy warmer habitats where the annual frost-free period begins earlier. While reducing the probability of exposure to frost has clear benefits for the survival of flower buds and flowers, such phenological advancement may disrupt other ecological processes across North America, including pollination, herbivory, and disease transmission.