Monday, March 9, 2009

The National Phenology Network Wants You

I was listening to the podcast of Science Friday and they had a piece on the National Phenology Network enlisting citizens to help track the effects of climate change.

Phenology is the study of recurring patterns of plants and animals in nature. Things like when ou get the first sprouts of plants in the spring, when birds migrate, when flowers bloom, etc. Many of these phenomea are very sensitive to small changes in temperature and can be indicators of climate change.

Monitoring these patterns all over the country is a task that is difficult for researchers to do. They don't have the funding or manpower, so this is where the citizen science effort comes in. They currently have a list of over 200 plants that they want to monitor. You can search by state to find out which plants you can monitor. They plan on adding animal monitoring in 2010 (which I think would be more fun for me personally...I am not as much of a plant person). You can make your own observations of these plants and submit them to the database, contributing a few points of data to scientific research.

In order to get significant results, you need to monitor plants over a long period of time. Fortunately, many gardeners keep meticulous records of their gardens. If you are a serious record keeping gardener, they want to see your records as well. This extra data will give the researchers a longer baseline. This type of research can make a good class project as well (teachers, I am talking to you!)

One of the interesting things they talked about was the relationships between different plants and animals. The same temperature change has different effects on different plants and animals that may have evolved an interdependent relationship. If the flowers bloom before the bees are ready to polinate them (or after) then both species can be negatively effected.

Climate change can have these types of unexpected consequences. Studying these patterns will help us understand the complex interactions between different plants and animals.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

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