Phenology: Connecting with Nature Science & Local Culture
Phenology: Citizen Scientist & Local Culture
Phenology is the study of cyclic and/or seasonal phenomena in plants and animals, especially in relation to weather and climate. It is important in terms of processes like bird migration or flowering, and for synchronicity between species. Relationships and interactions in nature depend greatly on timing, and this timing can be studied in order to better understand climate change. Recording phenological events gives us an idea of how climate has changed over time – keeping track of flowering times allows us to see how they change each year, or decade, or century!
The famous writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who is known for his nature journals, recorded the flowering times of many different plant species. Thoreau’s observations have since been used in studies on the impact of climate change on plants in New England.
Families can help with studies of phenology in a similar way to Thoreau! The National Phenology Network has developed Nature’s Notebook, a citizen science program that aims to get people outdoors and observing nature. Nature’s Notebook has an app and a website where citizen scientists can record observations to help scientists better understand the ways in which climate change is affecting plants in New England. The National Phenology Network needs volunteers to take part in many of the Nature’s Notebook projects, of which there are several throughout the country.
If you choose to volunteer, you can connect with regional projects and share your observations. One fun project that takes place in the Northeast is the New England Leaf Out Project, which requires participants to record the leaf out times of different trees throughout New England. This data helps researchers from Boston University study how trees are responding to rising temperatures throughout the Northeast.
Independent, citizen science like Nature’s Notebook is a great way to connect with nature, learn about phenology, practice gathering data, and learn the basics of experimental design while contributing to a scientific study.
Celebrate phenology too! Think about all the ways our communities here in western Massachusetts celebrate with phenology-based festivals. Celebrations of maple, asparagus, garlic and even vernal pools & salamander all point to how phenology is integrated into our local culture and communities. In other regions, communities may celebrate cherry blossoms, tulips, daffodils, lupine, sea turtles, hummingbirds, apple blossoms, truffles, whales, and other plants and animals. Subscribe to Hilltown Families for a heads-up on phenology festivals in our region, and here for phenology festivals happening nationwide. Participating in these festivals with your family, connects your child with both their natural environment and local culture.
[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]