What is phenology?
Phenology is an oddly antiseptic word to describe the timing of seasonal changes and life cycle events in the natural world; when trees leaf out, when flowers open, when birds migrate, when nestlings hatch. Phenology as a discipline is the art of noticing these changes as they occur day to day, and year to year.
Why is it important?
Tracking phenology allows us to detect patterns of change in the natural world that give us the ability to understand how species and ecosystems are responding to global changes, such as climate change and urbanization.
How do we know the climate is changing?
Studies based on phenology records, combined with satellite imagery and modeling technology, have allowed researchers to detect biological changes in response to weather patterns that comprise some of the most quantifiable evidence for human-created climate change. These long-term records include 1600 year old cherry blossom records from Japan, 670 year old grape harvest records from Europe, Thoreau’s beloved Walden Pond, Thomas Jefferson’s naturalist diary, to name a few.
What do we know?
We now know that spring green-up is advancing by about 2 days per decade, that over the last 50 years the growing season has lengthened by approximately 12 days and that there is evidence of species becoming decoupled from their mutualistic partners.
What don't we know?
A lot! There aren't enough naturalists and scientists out there to determine how organisms are responding to the changing climate and how best to parse the limited resources needed to protect the species and ecosystem services we depend on.
What are we doing about it?
Fortunately, technology and the keen motivation of individuals and communities who care (and who realize that science is not just for professionals!) have spawned an unprecedented phenological data collection movement across the nation. Using the open source data platform and expertise of the USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), individuals, partner groups and geographic affiliates of USA-NPN are rapidly implementing sites around the country.
Do we need professional skills to participate?
For phenology monitoring, the answer is no. Anyone can participate and there are many different options to suit all different kinds of observers. The skills needed to collect this type of data are not actually complicated, but ony require presence - a skill we are all trying to master in our over-committed modern lives!