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Weekend Science Fun: Phenology

Today let's look at an opportunity to carry out a citizen science project, and look at some free science education resources from the Internet.

USA National Phenology Network is looking for citizen scientists to help them collect data.

What is phenology? It is the study of the timing of certain measurable events in the life cycles of living creatures. Examples might be time of migration or nesting in particular species of birds, date of flowering in certain plants, or mushroom formation in a certain type of fungus. The occurrence of these events is often related to climate. Spring is a great time to study phenology (in places with distinct seasons), because it is relatively easy to recognize key events, like when lilacs are flowering around your neighborhood.

Why is studying phenology important? Some events, such the the running of sugar maple sap, are significant for people who use it as a source of food. In one study from 1963 to 2003, researchers found the maple trees started running sap on average eight days earlier, which isn't too much of a problem. The problem was that the trees started to bud (and stopped running the proper quality of sap) 11 days earlier, shortening the season by 10 percent. Other events may impact human health, such as when pollen sheds from certain allergenic plants. Interestingly, not all living things react in the same way to changes in temperature. Some events, particularly those later in the year, may actually be slowed.

In this somewhat long video, some of the members of the network explain what phenology is and how the network came about. Try watching the first part at least. It shows David Bertelsen climbing the same mountain in Arizona that he has climbed for the past 30 years. He diligently records information on some 600 species of plants that he encounters!

Look under "Participate" on the USA National Phenology Network website to learn how you can get involved through Nature's Notebook.

Even if you aren't interested in participating, go check out the Educator's Clearinghouse! They have four pages of website links to free educational materials, lesson plans and activities to explore.

A sure sign of spring!

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