Become A Citizen Scientist Through Project BudBurst

Mapping Nature Observation Connects the Seasons of a Plant’s Lifecycle

Nothing captures the passing of time quite like the impact of the seasons on plant-life. A great opportunity for Citizen Scientists to claim some seasonally-based nature education opportunities.

Generally when we study trees and their leafing habits, it takes place during the springtime when buds are just beginning to bust out into leaves. At that time of year, trees’ leaves are still intact and are easy to observe. However, fall is also a great time to participate in leaf-based citizen science, and Project BudBurst offers families the opportunity to participate in a large-scale phenology-based science project.

A project sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Project BudBurst’s fall opportunities for citizen science involve making observations of not only deciduous trees and their leaves, but conifers, evergreens, wildflowers, herbs, and grasses, too! Families’ role in Project BudBurst is to help scientists understand the seasonal changes that take place in plants by making observations about their fall state. Information reported by families is used to help scientists understand not only the way that plants look during the fall, but the full cycle of growth and change that they undergo throughout the year. And in supporting scientists in their quest to learn about plants’ changes, families will learn about them too!

Project BudBurst is based in phenology (the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena) and, as such, it includes a spring citizen science component as well as a fall study. Families who begin their observations now can re-visit the places where they found each tree, flower, bush, or wild grass in the springtime to see what it looks like when the plants wake up from a long winter’s nap. An April or May observation of the plant will reveal much about its growth process, allowing students to gain a deeper understanding of how it is that the plant came to look as it did in the fall.

Eager citizen scientists interested in participating in their autumn Seasonal Campaign should schedule an observation adventure soon, as Project BudBurst’s fall project includes observations done only during the months of September and October. However, if your family’s schedule doesn’t allow for observations to be done before the month is over, do them anyway and keep the data for yourselves. Whether or not you’re able to participate in the national project, you’ll still be offering your family a valuable learning opportunity. You’ll get to explore the local landscape and look closely at the many different plant species that can be found locally. Of course, you’ll have to focus on just a few species (Project BudBurst requires one observation form per species, so it’s really only manageable to do a handful of them), but regardless of the number of plant species you observe, participation in the project will lead to a better understanding of the local landscape throughout the four seasons.

After you’ve collected and submitted information about seasonal changes in your area, check out Project BudBurst’s results map, where observations from folks all over the country can be seen. Older students can consider the role of climate in seasonal change while reading about observations made by citizen scientists in other parts of the country. While the maples here may have already turned brilliant orange and begun to shed their leaves, maples further south will not be quite so far along in their changing!

[Photo credit: (cc) b k]

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