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The University of Kansas issued the following press release last week, calling for fellow Kansans to get involved in our recently announced phenology program.
You don’t have to live in Kansas to participate – we would like to encourage anyone and everyone in the U.S. to join in! This is a great project for classrooms, nature centers, families, and those interested in making additional uses of their Monarch Waystation habitats.
Kansans asked to track climate change in their own backyards
Monarch Watch, a citizen science outreach program at the University of Kansas, invites school children, gardeners and interested citizens to observe and record the growth of 16 common and easily identified plants through the growing season in Kansas.
“With all the talk about climate change, one might suppose that such changes would affect the growth of plants and the first appearances of some birds and mammals,” said Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch. “In fact, scientists are just beginning to record seasonal changes in plant and animal life in a systematic manner.”
The study of the seasonal “firsts” such as first robins, first shoots or first flowers is known as phenology. Monarch Watch is collaborating with a nationwide effort headed by the National Phenology Network to record the phenology, or “firsts,” for plants that are important to the success of monarch butterfly populations.
Input from the public will help scientists to distinguish changes that are due to unusual weather patterns from those attributable to long-term climatic changes.
To participate, visit the Monarch Watch blog (“Milkweed and Nectar Plant Phenology Project“) describing “firsts” that require observation.
Next, record the date of the observed “firsts,” such as first flower, in a notebook and submit the data at the National Phenology Network Web site.
“There are only a few scientists and they can’t be everywhere to record the many ‘firsts’ each year,” said Taylor. “That’s why we need citizens to help. We need observers everywhere.”
Monarch Watch is particularly interested in plants such as milkweeds that are hosts for monarch larvae and nectar plants that are visited by adult butterflies to fuel reproduction or migration.
“Studies of the year-to-year differences in the first appearances of these plants will help us understand the yearly differences in the size of the monarch population,” said Taylor.
Other groups are tracking plants important to honey bees.
Earlier plant growth and flowering due to climate change are of increasing interest to scientists. In 2007, March in Kansas was warmer than in any year since 1910 — with the result that in some areas garden plants, crops and native plants were as much as 12 days ahead of normal by April 2. Then came the “big freeze” of April 4-10, with as much as 60 hours of freezing temperatures.
“It was simply too warm too soon,” Taylor said. “The result was devastating for crops and for all plant life in eastern Kansas as well as the wildlife that was dependent on the pollen, nectar, foliage or fruits, nuts and berries that would have been produced.”
This year is cooler than normal — but how much are plants delayed?
“If we can get lots of people to record their observations, we can make sense of these year-to-year changes,” Taylor said. “Participation in this study is quite easy.”