Feature highlight - The extraordinary circumstances of technology, interest and information - where now citizens can help scientists in monitoring the ever-more-dramatic and dynamic environment of the 21st Century
Gretchen talks about the extraordinary circumstances of technology, interest and information - where now citizens can help scientists in monitoring the ever-more-dramatic and dynamic environment of the 21st Century
“To everything there is a season,” the saying goes. Phenology is the study of the cycles of nature, and this includes the observation of the first leaves of spring, summer flowering, the first fruits, ripening crops, seed formation, the first colored leaves of autumn and full leaf drop at the beginning of winter.
Phenology has been part of the structure of our lives even before the invention of instruments like thermometers and barometers – and before climate zones were identified.
It’s [ what Thoreau did at Walden Pond ] [http://blog.yourgardenshow.com/blog/thoreau-as-a-climatologist/ ] , and it is the basis of a lot of our folk wisdom, like “plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear” and “pull crabgrass when the forsythias bloom.”
Think about the lifecycle of people, and it’s easy to remember how plants are born, live and die.
Pregnancy = A plant seed.
Baby = Seedling
Toddler = True leaves
Puberty = Pollen
Adolescent = Budding
Adult = Flowering
Mature adult = Seed formation
RIP = Leaf drop and senescence
It’s a great excuse to get outdoors, and a fun way to get closer to nature! Plus you’ll be helping science, too. Cyclical and seasonal changes, especially those concerning plant life, are very closely related to the temperature of the soil and air. Researchers and biologists are eager for first-hand details about everything from lilac flowers to dandelion fluff. Each observation you make supplies them with unique information. And the more people who do Citizen Science, the more information they have to work with, and the better decisions can be made as we react to environmental change.
There is no commitment – everything is 100% voluntary. As long as you use the datasheets we provide, your structured data will be valuable, no matter how long you participate in Citizen Science.
Of course, your help is most valuable if you can stick with your spot for the entire lifecycle of your plant. And you’ll help even more if you continue to observe your plants from one year to the next.
When you enter your observations in your Citizen Science Glog, you are not only making a record of a day’s observation, you are also contributing observations. These become part of a larger database made up on Citizen Scientists around the United States. All data is sent anonymously, and is only marked by a location record within 7 miles of your point of observation. In your Glog, you will also be able to easily compare your observations, filtered by time, location, plant, and media.
Observations go to the National Phenology Network (NPN). The data is made available to the organization that designed the scientific study that is NPN administering. You can find out more about NPN [here]. [http://www.usanpn.org/about]
Check out YourGardenShow’s privacy guarantee. When you participate in Citizen Science, additional protection includes: (1) anonymity, with identification by number only (ID); (2) the choice to “opt out” of sharing original precision of the geographic coordinates of data uploaded by you; and (3) stringent safeguards for special observations subject to state and/or federal laws.
Of course! And please feel free to keep track of them in your Glog. However, to be part of environmental research, you’ll need to choose plants from our list of Calibration Plants.
Most Calibration Plants are wild or native species – especially calibration species. We are trying to avoid observing spots where plants are watered or fertilized. In other words, we don’t want to monitor your gardening technique! We want to observe natural growth cycles.
At this moment, animals are not part of YourGardenShow Citizen Science. But you can take part in our special programs, which include The Great Sunflower Project, and contribute to research on colony collapse disorder.
Just enter your zip code on the Citizen Science homepage, a project page or a Plant Calibration page. You’ll get a list of plant species that are being monitored in your area. Then decide which of those are easy for you to observe. Because you will need to make regular observations, it’s easiest if you pick a species (or two!) that grows nearby – something you walk, run or bike past as part of your normal day-to-day routine. Often, people choose their yard, a favorite park, or nature near their office or school as their observation spot. Just remember – the spot should be relatively flat or gently sloping, and a good representation of the natural environmental conditions in your area.
If you are only observing one plant, your spot will be the small area immediately around the plant. If you are observing several plants near one another, you can consider them all to be at one spot.
For details about choosing your spot, watch this video from the National Phenology Network.
Remember Little Red Riding Hood – how everything was not too big or not too small, but “just right.” That’s what we’re looking for. Not too wet, and not too dry. No snowdrifts or unusual wind funnels. But just about normal for your local conditions, and representative of much of the land area in your zip code.
The same Red Riding Hood rule of thumb applies to forests and woods. The spot you choose there should be pretty similar to the surrounding forest/woods. Just be careful of the wolves... you know the story :)
All spots are special in some way, so try and make note of what makes your spot unique when you set up your Citizen Science Glog.
Yes, the more the merrier! Sometimes it is even necessary to divide your turf into several spots, if the area you want to observe is not uniform.
All spots are unique and interesting to observe. But our goal is to identify patterns quickly, so it’s better if your spot represents the conditions of a larger area, and can act as a sample for your zip code.
Sometimes an area contains several environments. You may see wetlands next to forests next to dry grasslands. In this case, you would consider each environment to be a separate spot.
The size of your spot doesn’t matter much, if conditions are pretty similar throughout the spot. And as long as it is not larger than 15 acres (6 hectares). This is about 8 football or professional soccer fields. If it is larger than this, divide your spot up into several different spots.
If you don’t own the property where your spot is located, you must get permission from the landowner before signing up to observe with Citizen Science or marking any plants.
Citizen Science plant species have been especially chosen by scientists and policy makers because they are proven to be associated with our environmental or economic health. These species grow in many areas of the country, are easy to identify, are of ecological and economic importance or have conservation value. Some species are associated with health issues such as allergies, some help feed pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and others serve as indicators for climate change.
According to NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Geological Survey (USGS) and universities, 20 important plants impact our national health and economy. Please remember to include at least one Calibration Plant on your list! We’ve made it even easier by marking all calibration species with this icon [insert icon].
Feel free to observe nature everywhere! But with Citizen Science, we are specifically targeting species that are recommended for study by the National Phenology Network [HYPERLINK: http://www.usanpn.org/home]. By limiting our observations to this list, we are able to help science most. And no worries – there are plenty of plant species to choose from, in every region of the United States – and observations can be made at almost any time of the year!
If you want to observe a plant not currently on the Season Spotting list, you can use Glog and submit your observations to later on to OffListObservation@SeasonSpotting.com. We’ll make sure the National Phenology Network gets this data, as they add studies based on interest and scientific sponsorship.
We hope you’ll observe more than one! What about 2 calibration species? Or a single calibration species in a number of different spots? You can even observe bees as part of the Great Sunflower Project.
Just enter your zip code on the Citizen Science homepage, a project page or a Calibration Plant page. You’ll get a list of Citizen Science species that are being monitored in your area. Then take a look around you – and see which plant species are easy for you to observe on a regular basis.
First of all, don’t observe plants that are closer than 20ft. (6m.) to a road or building. Select one or more individuals of each of your chosen plant species. They should appear healthy, undamaged, and free of pests and disease. If you want to observe several individuals of the same plant species, choose individuals that are not direct neighbors, but still grow in similar environments.
Individual plants should be no closer than 2 or 3 times the width of 1 of the plants. For example, if you could choose to observe 3 lilacs growing in your yard – each in full sun and spaced three plant widths apart from each other. If the lilacs are growing as a hedge, this would mean every third lilac plant could be selected.
For annuals and biennials, avoid choosing the first or the last seedling to emerge in the spring, as they may not be representative of the larger population at your site.
Some years (and for some seasons), a group of individual plants will show changes at the same time. Other years, they don’t. Even if your group of individual plants seem to always exhibit the same seasonal timing, let us know. Scientists appreciate this kind of data!
For Citizen Science, we have partnered with the Master Gardener extension system to help with plant identification, and have built some important technology bridges to get their experts to help. For this long distance identification, you will need to have a digital camera and be able to follow our directions to upload.
Otherwise, you can start by clicking on YourGardenShow’s plants link – which will take you to our database of more than 12,000 plants, made available to us from the Missouri Botanical Garden and Cornell University and other organizations who have partnered with us for Citizen Science. If a plant on our pages is marked with a Citizen Science icon, you can include it in your observations.
During the winter months, it can be hard to determine your plant’s species. But you probably have a good idea about what type of plant it is: flower, grass, deciduous tree, etc. So, in the meantime, choose a plant that’s closest to what you believe your plant to be. Then follow the steps below (Making Observations, question 1. Can I start observing a plant, even if I don’t know its species?)
If an individual plant dies or is obviously declining in health (when other plants of the same species around it are still healthy), note this in the “add a note” field when you enter your observations online in Glog. Then pick a new individual plant to observe – by adding this as a new plant with a different nickname.
But perhaps your plant is an annual (or biennial) species. In this case, it’s only natural for individual plants to die each year (or every 2 years). It’s a phase of the plant’s lifecycle, and should be included in your observations.
Note your observations on a field datasheet, but don’t enter your observations online until you have identified your plant’s species with reasonable confidence.
The more the better, of course, but 3 to 5 is a good target. Always pick an odd number since that always ensures that there is one plant in the middle of two other observations!
As often as is convenient for you – preferably once a week, or even every two or three days, especially during the lifecycle phases you’re interested in.
It’s up to you! But it’s more helpful if all of your observations are made around the same time of day. However, if you are observing species that are active most during the day (like most plants species on our Citizen Science list) and those that are most active at dusk or at night (like some flowers and pollinators), you may want to make your observations twice a day, once during the day and once at dusk or night.
Record that! A full record of your observation dates allows scientists to more confidently estimate when a plant phase began or ended. Every bit of information is worthwhile! Enjoy the extra moments in nature too.
Just note this in the comments section of your Citizen Science project form. For example, if your plant flowered while you were away or out of town, and you see dried flowers on the ground below the plant, feel free to note this.
If you are watching for a lifecycle phase (leaves, flowers, fruit, etc) and it doesn’t seem to be starting when you expect it, note that it is NOT occurring. This could be very valuable information.
A computer and access to a printer for a one time printing. Or a smartphone. It’s also handy to have a digital camera to take photos. Think of a way to mark your spot (with natural chalk, stakes, tape), so you can find your plant from one visit to another.
When you click “Create Datasheet (PDF)” or “Create All Datasheets (PDF)” from the Citizen Science resource pages, a PDF file with a datasheet packet will be downloaded to your desktop. Print all or a selection of the datasheets to use for recording your observations in the field.
The “Create All Datasheets (PDF)” packet includes a cover sheet and a plant lifecycle phase photo datasheet for EACH individual plant you are observing.
When you need new datasheets, repeat the process. There is a box to elect NOT to print the plant phase photo datasheet.
Maybe have the ‘download observation sheet here’ with a box that has type-ahead and a download button.
Take a photo of your spot, if possible. That will help you locate your plants, even when they are dormant. You can mark four corners surrounding your sport with sticks, colorful flagging, scrap cloth, or something similar. Natural chalk or gesso works, too (at least until it rains!). Natural or man-made landmarks – the edge of a yard, big rocks, a bend in a trail, a road – can also help to define the boundaries. Make sure to replace any markers if they weather or become unreadable. And remember, if you are observing on public land (or someone else’s property), you must get permission before marking your spot.
Because you need to observe the same individual plants repeatedly, you should mark each plant so that you can find it again. For trees and shrubs, attach flagging tape or small, inconspicuous aluminum tags to the trunk or a branch on each plant. These are available at hardware stores or forestry supply companies. For grasses and forbs, place labeled toothpicks, Popsicle sticks, or skewers in the ground next to each plant. Or loosely tie colored string around the base of the plant. Mark each individual plant with a unique label. For example, “red maple-1”, “red maple-2”, etc.
Avoid marking plants in a way that will change its growing conditions. For example, don’t place a broad stake next to a small plant that would shade it or cause root damage.
Yes. With most of the plant species, you will be directed to pick a number of nodes to monitor on each plant. Judge each leaf bud, needle bud, or shoot separately.
Emerging leaves/Needles: As long as some buds or shoots on the plant are still breaking or initiating growth – and have not yet produced an unfolded leaf or needle - you are seeing “Emerging leaves/needles” or “Emerging growth.”
Unfolded leaves/Needles: For plants with more than one bud/shoot, you may see “Emerging leaves/needles” or “Emerging growth” in some buds/shoots before AND after seeing “Unfolded leaves/needles” or “Young unfolded leaves/needles” from other buds or shoots.
END of Emerging leaves phase: You may also see multiple episodes of leaf/needle bud break or initial growth within a season. This can happen after severe drought or defoliation by insects. However, once all active leaf/needle buds or shoots on the plant have at least 1 unfolded leaf, you should report that you no longer see “Emerging leaves/needles” or “Emerging growth” for that episode.
This is a little difficult the first year you try it, but gets easier with practice. If you are in doubt, you can measure full leaf size during the summer of the first year, and use that measure to better judge 75% of full leaf size for subsequent years. We have tried to include a photo including a measuring device for each plant species.
Continue reporting “Unfolded leaves/needles” as long as fresh green or colored leaves/needles remain on your plant. Don’t include dried, dead leaves or dead, brown needles that remain on the plant, which occurs with some species throughout the dormant season (e.g. winter or dry season).
In some cases, green leaves will remain on the plant in a frozen condition for part or all of the winter. If more than 5% of the leaves remain on the plant in this condition, continue to report seeing “Unfolded leaves” until they fall off or appear wilted.
For deciduous plants, there are certain phases with no distinct endpoint other than the end of the growing season. These include “> (greater than) 75% of full leaf size”, “>(greater than) 50% of leaves/needles colored”, “All leaves/needles colored”, “> (greater than) 50% of leaves/needles fallen”, “All leaves/needles fallen”, and All leaves withered.”
For phases that are followed by another phase in a logical sequence, stop recording the first phase when the next one begins. For example, stop recording “> (greater than) 50% of leaves/needles colored” when you see “All leaves/needles colored.”
Evidence of “Recent fruit drop” may include mature fruits on the ground below the plant that were not there on your last visit, or fruits missing from the plant which were present on your last visit. For this phase, do not include the dropping of fruits that are clearly immature and unripe, as often happens in a heavy rain or wind storm.
Sunflowers are easy to grow and are great resources for bees and birds. Sunflowers produce a lot of nectar and pollen which attracts bees. Wild sunflowers also require visits by bees to set seed.
No. Each sunflower has its own characteristics. There are actually quite a few sunflowers out there that don't even produce pollen (which is the main reason bees visit)! To make sure that we are always comparing the same things, please use the variety that we have chosen, the annual Lemon Queen sunflower. These seeds are widely available and quite inexpensive to buy. You also can buy them at Renee's Garden or place your order online.
Flies are easy. Flies have one wing on each side. Bees have two. Flies also tend to perch with their wings pointing out an angle. Bees tuck them away.
Telling wasps and bees apart is much harder. Bees tend to have wider bodies and appear more robust. Bees are usually hairier and you can often see where they are carrying pollen. However, it turns out that bees closest relatives are a group of wasps and these wasps are very difficult to differentiate from bees. The easy way to tell bees and wasps apart is to use a microscope and look for a branched hair. Bees have branched hairs, wasps have simple hairs. Alternatively, watch what they eat. Bees are vegetarian; wasps are carnivores.
No. But, boy do they give bees a bad reputation!
Female bees collect pollen to provision their nests. Pollen is actually the sole source of protein for the developing larvae. Both female and male bees drink nectar, which is a source of energy.
Different species carry pollen in different ways. Most commonly, bees have specialized branched hairs for carrying pollen. The pollen actually is held on through an electro-static charge. When bees fly, they build up an electrostatic charge. When they enter a flower, that flower is grounded so, the pollen almost jumps right onto a bee. Think about that trick having a balloon stick to your hair. Bees that hold pollen have the hairs on their hind legs or on the bottom of their abdomen.
Other bees carry pollen in their mouths. There actually are some parasitic bees that don't gather their own pollen. They simply lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. Their offspring hatch before the offspring of their host and often kill the host larvae. They are called cuckoo bees because this behavior was first documented in cuckoo birds.
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