© The Author(s) 2016. Organisms' life cycles consist of hierarchical stages, from a single phenological stage (for example, flowering within a season), to vegetative and reproductive phases, to the total lifespan of the individual. Yet phenological events are typically studied in isolation, limiting our understanding of life history responses to climate change. Here, we reciprocally transfer plant communities along an elevation gradient to investigate plastic changes in the duration of sequential phenological events for six alpine species. We show that prolonged flowering leads to longer reproductive phases and activity periods when plants are moved to warmer locations. In contrast, shorter post-fruiting leaf and flowering stages led to shorter vegetative and reproductive phases, respectively, which resulted in shorter activity periods when plants were moved to cooler conditions. Therefore, phenological responses to warming and cooling do not simply mirror one another in the opposite direction, and low temperature may limit reproductive allocation in the alpine region.