Monday, May 11, 2009


Maybe you've heard of phrenology, the study of bumps and ridges on a person's head. But have you heard of phenology? I'd heard of it, but didn't know the term for it. According to the National Phenology Network, phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

Still not sure what that means? Well, I've been told by locales that you should plant your warm weather vegetables (tomatoes, peppers) when nearby blackberry brambles are flowering. I've also been told that Central Valley indigenous people would use the signal of elderberries flowering to migrate to the coast to collect seaweeds.

The National Phenology Network is calling for citizen scientists to record their observations in their database. Much like the annual bird counts organized by Audubon, scientists need citizens around the country to contribute their local data. I could submit information like when the oaks leaf out on my property, when the lilacs bloom (I've seen a seven week variation in the five years I've lived here), or when the tent caterpillars come spinning out of the trees.

Maybe you have a personal stake in your observations. For example, I'm quite aware when the oaks and pines are producing massive amounts of allergy inducing pollen. I dread that time each year. Perhaps it's the appearance of a native wildflower, like Ithuriel Spears or Blue Dicks.

With my previous employer, I often spoke to people on the east coast who insisted that their spring was coming 7-10 days earlier that in previous decades. Due to their anecdotal quality, many of these stories have been dismissed. But what if you keep a garden journal with notes and dates? This information could be uploaded to be analyzed!

I'm very excited. I love data. I love collaboration. I love citizines contributing to science. What not to love?

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