Have you ever walked through the woods on a crisp spring day and noticed the buds on a maple sapling about to burst open, or found a may apple poking its head above ground? Do you love to notice the leaves changing color in the fall? Then you’ve observed the phenomena of phenology!
Phenology is nature’s calendar! It is the scientific study of the timing of distinct observable stages in a plant or animal’s life cycle. These stages are called phenophases and are the moment at which a plant changes seasonally. Phenophases are triggered by changes in the temperature, light, and precipitation. Scientists are tracking how this timing may be impacted by the regional climate, local weather events, or animal and plant interactions to better understand how species and ecosystems are responding to climate change. For instance, if trees leaf out too early and we get a frost, the trees can be damaged. Warmer autumns may mean the monarch butterflies stay farther north for longer and may not make it to their breeding grounds before temperatures get too cold.
If you’ve been out recently in your yard or neighborhood or on a walk at one of our Public Conservation Areas and have been noticing these subtle seasonal changes you are well on your way to becoming a phenologist! You can help scientists by signing up to be an observer with Nature’s Notebook! The great thing about Nature’s Notebook, is that you don’t need any special equipment, or a PhD in botany to help collect valuable scientific data, you just set up an account and start observing! In addition to providing data for scientists, this information is also useful for people managing their own properties. Studying phenology helps you to become more aware about when things like invasive species are leafing out; and enables you to plan for the most effective time for removal.
This spring we were planning to create a phenology trail at Borden’s Pond Conservation Area, unfortunately that has been put on hold for now, but for those of you interested in collecting data at home, when you sign up make sure to join the New York Phenology Project and have your backyard data be part of a larger regional study, and once our trail is set up it will be on there too. They have a list of the species they are asking folks to observe, so that the data is comparable regionally.
If flowers and pollinators are more your thing, join the Nectar Connectors campaign. By observing flowering of nectar plants you’re helping resource managers better understand where and when nectar sources are available for monarchs and other pollinators across the United States, and if they need to develop plans to encourage more of the necessary plants, like milkweed for monarch butterflies!