Nature's Exquisite Timing


Among many other accomplishments, Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Jefferson were diligent phenologists.  They kept detailed journals in which they recorded the timing of events in nature -- when trees leafed out, when flowers bloomed, when the ground was warm enough to plant.

        At the November 18, 2015, FODM meeting, LoriAnn Barnett of the USA National Phenology Network (NPN) explained to 80 FODMers and friends that phenology is the study of the timing of recurring life cycle events as they relate to environmental conditions.  Life cycles are important because everything is interdependent. "If you disturb one piece," she said, "You throw everything off balance."

        The NPN maintains phenology data according to certain protocols and encourages "citizen scientists" to contribute to scientific discovery by recording data on Nature's Notebook, a database that researchers use to answer scientific questions.  Nature's Notebook participants recorded over 1.5 million records in 2015 by November 20.

       grackleCommon grackle gorging on fall cankerworm caterpillars.
Photo by Paula Sullivan
Phenology is a key indicator of climate change, she told the packed room, and climate change could disrupt some of nature's synchronicity. Some flowering plants are blooming earlier and some migratory birds are returning to their breeding grounds earlier, NPN officials maintain. Warblers and other birds need caterpillars during migration and to feed their young. Other birds time their spring arrival to their breeding grounds to the "green-up" of plants. Climate change can throw off the timing so that food is not available when animals need it. In the photo above by Glenda Booth, a tickseed sunflower (a species of Bidens), also known as bearded beggar tick and bur marigold is shown. Bees visit the flowers and transfer pollen when plants produce pollen.

        To learn more, including how to become an observer, visit the network at

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