My New Year’s resolution is to actively observe and record seasonal changes in local plants and animals. I will be joining over 15,000 other citizen scientists and professional naturalists participating in the USA National Phenology Network’s (USA-NPN) Nature’s Notebook project.
Nature’s Notebook participation is an enjoyable project, good for a variety of skill levels, and approved for HMN volunteer hours. But what is most exciting to me is how USA-NPN along with its government and academic partners and sponsors interpret and use our data. They are professionally and actively analyzing plant and animal phenology data sets to conduct and release scientific studies on long-term changes in the natural world. For example, USA-NPN data was included in a recently released study which shows Spring is advancing in 3 of every 4 National Parks.
And in 2015, the University of Wisconsin-Madison released study results using USA-NPN data. Their article states that early springs and “false springs” will likely continue into the future due to climate change.
It is easy to sign up and get started with Nature’s Notebook. Participants select from a list of plants and animals to monitor. We are encouraged to observe and record at our convenience, with a suggested three minutes or more observation period on three days a week. I will be monitoring three plants in my yard as well as ten animals, including honeybees, bumblebees and the woodchuck that lives under my shed. Observations are entered easily online by computer or mobile app. The observations and some metadata on collection are uploaded via each participant’s Nature’s Notebook Observation Deck.
Nature’s Notebook offers thorough online training and an assortment of features that keep the data collection fun and interesting. There are virtual badges to earn, new features and challenges to explore, and frequent news to read on how the program is making a difference toward understanding seasonal longer-term changes in the natural world.
USA-NPN and its sponsors also host a variety of specialized data collection campaigns. I will be participating in the cloned lilac campaign, a source for data used in the UW-Madison early springs study linked above. Other campaigns include Shady Invaders, about invasive shrubs; and cloned dogwood monitoring.
For a project that you can do in your own backyard and that makes a difference in scientific understanding, I recommend phenology monitoring with the fun, well managed, and easily accessible Nature’s Notebook.
– Stephanie Gardner, January 2017
In the photo above right, Stephanie is peering through love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) flowers at the Smithsonian gardens in Washington, DC.