Nature's Notebook: Exploring the Pace of the Planet from Your Own Backyard

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I think this is a fascinating topic, one that I'm very excited about. I'll try to let some of that enthusiasm rub off a little bit. If you're here, that shows your enthusiasm as well.

I also love to answer questions and/or hear what your particular thoughts are about climate change, environmental variation, phenology, which I'll define in a few minutes, flowering plant and animal interactions, biological invasions, anything. I'm an ecologist. I like to think about how organisms interact with their environment and how the environment is driving changes in the natural world that we all depend on.

So, I'm very, very pleased to be here to talk to you about a new program; a new national and biological monitoring program. I don't remember exactly what you called it; an integrated observing platform with infrastructure for ecological and biological assessments on a national scale. That sounds pretty scary, but that's right. That's an excellent definition of what it is that we're trying to do.

In order to create something like that, a national observing platform; a national observing system, you need more than all of the PhD ecologists, scientists, biologists and Park Service who are out there. You need to include many more people than that to create a continental instrument with 10,000 observation locations.

Or more, we'd like to have across the nation where we're tracking the timing of "nature's pulls" if you will. The timing of leafing and flowering. When birds arrive; when animals migrate or hibernate or when they're reproducing or when they're producing the eggs, or when they're fledging. Or when the bees are arriving, bringing honey into a hive, because we depend on all of those things and we spend millions of dollars trying to manage ecological systems in a changing environment. Our environment is changing a lot every day and we're taking the pulls of the planet by watching and observing what happens to nature.

I'm not a climate scientist. I will be talking about climate change and global circulation models and global warming that much because first, I would like to focus on the biological response of systems to environmental variation and change. Second of all, when we're studying phenology, we're stating things like "flowering" or "leafing" or "wheat heading dates" or the expansion of a virus through mosquito vectors across the nation. You don't need to necessarily think about it in terms of a climate change context.

There's a lot of political talk right now about what is climate change. How is it really happening? What's the role of human beings? The science is there. Science says, "The climate is changing. Human beings and carbon dioxide concentrations under greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are contributing to those changes."

But independent of that, we can track what's going on across the nation and use that in our everyday life, independent of any sort of climatic change or directional climatic change or anthropogenic climate change, sometimes what it's called.

As a quick introduction just what I'm going to be talking about, these are the only screens we've got. If you're having a little trouble seeing, they're a bit fuzzy. I encourage you just to come on right up front and get right up closer so you can see. I've got a lot of pretty slides. I don't have a lot of words or the few cases where it's a little bit wordy. Feel free to come on up, I won't bite.

I want to start up with a bit of definition of phenology. Of course, my title talks about "Nature's Notebook" and that's what I'm going to be featuring. But I think, in order to kind of get there, into this particular monitoring program that I will be talking about, I need to do a little scaffolding with you just to make sure that everyone's on the same page in terms of "phenology" and not "phrenology". Not the study of the bumps on the head as a way to assess moral character. A little bump right there, I wonder what that means. Too much education, probably, I would guess.

Why is phenology important? Who cares if things are changing? What if the flowers come out on the cherry blossoms earlier this year? That doesn't really have much impact. Of course, if you're a storekeeper in the area, that's really important to you. What is the phenology network itself? How we're trying to organize information and then to the need of what is promised in that title slide about Nature's Notebook, so that you can be an informed observer as part of the national system of observers who are out tracking biological response of organisms across the landscape and how you can actually get involved.

So, I'm going to have a variety of different kinds of topics here. I've got up here a pretty broad audience. There'll be a little science. There'll be a little bit management. There'll be a little bit of education. There'll be a little bit of how you might get involved if you have your own organization and are looking to expand that into activities like monitoring plants and animals and engage in the public and do a little climate literacy and a little science literacy as you go along.

So, what is phenology? I just want to make sure we're on the same page. Ken, it's not that "phrenology" or it's not "phenomenology" but it does come from the same Greek root, "to show" or "to appear", so the study of when things come or show up or appear; the study of the timing of life cycle events for the plants and animals, as some folks call it.

In fact there's a British Phenology Network. They call it "Nature's Calendar". There's a Dutch Phenology Network, they call it nature's "Nature's Calendar". I can't do the Dutch accent. Australia has a climate watch, et cetera. We considered using the term "Nature's Calendar" for our program called "Nature's Notebook" but it was taken, so we came up with "Nature's Notebook" because we want to include everybody in that particular project and I'll tell you more about that.

More than just when things happen, we want to know why things are happening. I'm an ecologist, I'm a scientist. I'm studying mechanisms; what is the reason why we have plants and animals coming out earlier in the spring? What are the downstream consequences? What happens? What does that really mean? So, not only "What is the study or of the timing of life cycle events," but the causes and the consequences of those changes on a landscape scale.

Just to make sure we're all talking the same thing, here are a few nice examples of phenological change. We're going to see timing of migrations, or when wild flowers come out in the spring, or in the autumn when leaves change color.

All of these have really important implications; if you're a lion and you're after some gazelle. Or if you're a humming bird or a bee and you need wild flowers and nectar or other resources. Or if you're an animal that's depending upon masting of oaks, which is the production of acorns in the fall, like black bears are; or if you're a bird, you're aware of habitat; or if you're a global chain scientist and you need to know what are the dynamics and pattern of carbon across the landscape.

When leaves fall, that means they're no longer photosynthesizing. They're going to be eaten up by microbes. We call it heat or trophic respiration; that carbon dioxide will go back in the atmosphere and you can measure it in the atmosphere. So, there's a lot of cycling of carbon from natural systems in the atmosphere that is controlled by primary production, which is leaves producing sugars from carbon dioxide, storing them and then releasing them.

Again, why do we want to focus on something like phenology? Hopefully, you're starting to kind of clear that, "Boy, just about anybody can do phenology," even the sky with all that education can go out and do phenology. But seriously, everybody can. It's easy to observe and there are scientific basis to every observation.

Does this plant have flowers on it or not? Yes. It's easy to observe.

Did you see a humming bird? Yes.

Did you see a bee? Yes.

It's critical for plants and animals. Of course, when things happen, it's critical to species interactions. It's like how we interact with their garden at most. You don't want to go out too early in the year. You've got a frost. You're going to wait until, "Boy, it seems like a nice warm day. There's big cold front that zapped me yesterday morning at 8:45. 8:30 it was 80 degrees and all I had on was just my sweater."

So, it's also critical for people as I just pointed out. It's also very sensitive to environmental variation. The cherry blossoms for example, there are still blossoms on the trees out there that went down the tidal basin yesterday, but not on the east side over by the monument.

Over on the west side, they're still there because they're still protected from the prevailing winds or at least when the winds came through. So, there are cherry blossoms that are fully on those particular plants. There's actually a lot of spatial variation caused by things just like local weather conditions and through time. What the drives the flowers to come up in your yard; the tulips or the daffodils.

It seems like the daffodils are coming out earlier this year. Ha, they are.

If you're in the park service and you're managing the invasive species. It seems like the invasive species came up earlier this year and set seed. Ha, they are and unfortunately they did it before you got the college students there who are doing all of the invasive plant control up in Acadia National Park. They arrived there last year and there was nothing for those summer students to do because all of the weeds had already set their seeds. If they went out and worked with them, they're going to spread seeds all over the place and that was going to be it.

It's going to take the park service three years to change their hiring practices to bring in people, because it's the federal government. It could take three years to change the hiring practices because they just can't put full time permanent people on the weed pulling duty. It's going to take a while to bring in the next cadre of folks because spring came early. Invasives did their stuff early up there. The colleges got out at the same time than they did last year, which makes sense.

That's a mismatch or decoupling that is having major impacts on the number of weeds you'll see this year in Acadia National Park. But don't tell them I told you that story because then it will be embarrassing to them. But they fully knew all of it. They're fully aware of it and they're thinking about, "I'm a resource manager. I got to manage human populations. I've I got to manage natural populations. I got to put the two together. Timing is everything," we say.

Phenology, as I kind of pointed out, it's affecting the abundance and diversity of organisms across the landscape. How are they interacting with one another? How are they interacting? What are their seasonal behavior patterns?

If you have mast years and oaks, lots of mast is produced every other year. You can actually see patterns that affect bird migrations and abundances on a biennial pattern across North America. You can see bears going hungry in years when you don't have mast being produced.

As I've talked about already, carbon dioxide concentrations in the water vapor. When the leaf comes on one of those little cherry trees, Prunus x yedoensis, down the tidal basin, it starts sucking up carbon dioxide through these little stomates and letting out water. When you take all of the leaves in North America and you have them all operating simultaneously, that's a lot of exchange of carbon in and water out. When they drop off in the fall, that's a huge impact and we can measure it using the instrumentation on the top of a mountain in Hawaii; on Mauna Loa, the Mauna Loa Observatory.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the air are increasing. We know we have really good technology. We know exactly what the CO2 concentration in the air is down there and you can see it go like this overtime. That little pulls that you see here is the breathing in the biosphere. It's the activity of vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere. We can talk more about that later on.

So far, I'm able to talk about climate change or environmental variation very much at all. But the Nobel Prize winners who wrote that intergovernmental panel on climate change, that big 2000 author document that you've been hearing about and reading about. A bunch of scientists came together and were hammering out their differences.

Phenology they wrote is perhaps the simplest process in which you can track the changes in the ecology. What things are doing and where they are of species in response to climate change. The IPCC had this document, the big bunch of documents, and when the chapters focus on what have we seen? What is the fingerprint of climate change impacts on the natural ecological systems that we're seeing so far?

A whole chapter devoted to that and a big part of it was on phenology because that's an early warning sign; an early indicator of change. If it gets hot in here, we're all going to change our behavior. The next thing we might do is change our phenology, the timing of when we do things.

OK, there's a little difference there between behavior and phenology but we're not going to die out. Extinctions happen much later on, but it's the phenology that happens early on as an early indicator. They have about 40,000 different data sets. 39,998 of them are from Europe.

We're just going on building a USA National Phenology Network, I'll talk more about that here in a few minutes, and people love it. Joe McCath from ABC-7 called me and said, "Can you tell me whether spring is arriving early in Washington, D.C.?" He called Sylvia Orlidan, the U.S. Library, and he called Greg Butcher who's with Audubon and he said, "Tell me, is it coming earlier?" It was just a couple of weeks ago.

EPA had this big meeting and I stand out there in Clarington, trying to answer this guy's question because they couldn't get reception enabled mobility in there. He wanted to know how many days earlier is it coming. "Is it coming earlier? How many days earlier?"

I'm a scientist. I say, "Well it don't know; it depends." That's not what they're looking for but then, we were featured later on that evening on the news. It was like, "Hey, there's a new blog: its climate change and its weather changing and the spring coming earlier." It really resonates a lot with people.

And it is changing; spring is coming earlier and there's a whole host of different ways that you can figure that out. You can track that kind of change through time. Here is one way; for example, it seems like spring is up earlier. My daffodils are coming up earlier. I'll just write that down on my little notebook here.

Here, they took pictures. This is Lowes Cemetery in Massachusetts in 30th of May in 1868 on the left, 30th of May in 2005 on the right. OK, this doesn't mean that global warming is happening like that. It doesn't even mean that spring necessarily is coming earlier. It's just two points in time but when you take the aggregate of all the photos through time, you can find these amazing trends. And it is coming earlier.

Here on the eastern sea board, it's about three weeks earlier but it depends on how you slice it. If you're looking at using satellites to measure the entire forest, green slime they call it down there. Or if you're looking at a little flower or the first flower on the cherry blossoms, plants are really variable. Or the first robin. I'm a plant ecologist, so I'll try to talk to you animal people. But we do have a multi types of monitoring program because it's really important to think about plants, animals and how they interact.

Then there are scientists who come in and they say, "Well, let's take a look and see what is happening a little more with scientific basis." This is Camille Parmesan; she's at U.T. Austin and she said, "Let's get together with an economist, Gary Yohe, and do what they call a Meta analysis; take all the published literature where people have actually gone through the publication process where they're actually looking at phenology records." They found 677 species total. They had a variety of different data sets, ranging from 16 years. Through time, what is a trend? How many years?

My taxi cab driver asked me the other day. Taxi cab drivers are really great. They're totally tuned in to the environment. They know a lot about what's going on around them and how that affects, have them pull some folks who need a cab or et cetera. He's like, "You probably want, oh you probably want to go to tidal basin today, will you?" I was like, "Yes."

232 years, and an average of about 45 years and they found that of those organisms that they'd looked at the people who published back in 2003 and the paper in nature, 2/3 of them basically had changed earlier in the spring. Recently, there was a paper that came out in another scientific article came out where some of them, the same thing. Relatively recently, they found the number was closer to 82%. When? It depends a little bit on where accumulated information that's showing that there is indeed a change.

But here's where the science comes in and this, I think, is pretty much my only graph in here. The bottom-line here is that the bars represent the responses for different kinds of organisms. The responses differ; the size of the bar changes.

Technically, what this is a little graph showing the variation between the different kinds of organisms from Camille's paper that she did. She went back in the paper in global changes and biology a couple of years later and said, "Well, let's break this down and see if we find trends from different kinds of organisms."

Amphibians, birds, butterflies, herbs and grasses, shrubs, trees, fish, mammal; and this scale here shows the change in spring timing in days per decade. That's the one way to put it under the same scale from zero to 10. On average, about three days earlier phenology based on all of the work that she had done. Not much, about three days, but you can see here the different organism types had very different sensitivities. Amphibians, very sensitive, the same for the very few data sets for mammals that they had.

So, if you have birds or butterflies that are depended upon herbs, grasses or flowering shrubs, you can see that through time, this is dates per decade on the average about four days per decade. If something is changing and other things aren't, you can end up with a mismatch or a decoupling and we see that.

We've seen that with Bay Checkerspot Butterfly on the San Francisco peninsula. This is a very, very well-documented study from Europe. This here in and all this paper published in nature. A lot of work had been done on this system and this is a three-way interaction. We call it "tri-trophic interaction" between oak leaves that come out early in the spring, a larva of a winter moth, caterpillar comes along and munches on those leaves before they build up too much defenses, and a fly catcher that arise from Northern Africa. It's a migratory bird, pied fly catcher, that subsists pretty much solely on these moths. It doesn't eat other kinds of moth larva, just these.

So, you have this tri-trophic relationship where different organisms eating each other in succession and things are changing. That's not stable at all. The oak, there's been substantial warming in the British Isles and oaks are coming out at about two weeks earlier.

Well as it turns out, that's not a problem for the larva, the caterpillars. They come out a couple of weeks earlier too. Probably being driven by the same thing; warming temperatures in the soil that tell the oak's leaves to come out. The caterpillars, it's time to get munching.

But remember our long-distance migrant, actually relatively short-distance migrant from Africa, conditions aren't quite the same in North Africa as they are at southern British Isles. So, it's getting different cues and it's arriving in the British Isles at the same time each year and because it doesn't have resource substitutability, it can't eat other things. These moths, as it turns out, are already gone. The larvas are already gone and so we've seen these populations declined because of starvation on either 90 to 95 percent.

There are a number of other kinds of examples like that where we have organisms arriving. We're expecting them to do some ecosystem services for us but the ecosystem has changed and it's an unstable system as a result. There's a lot of science behind that, kind of glossing a little bit, but that's the bottom-line as you have this mismatches. The more we look for them, the more we find them.

How do we use this information then? A whole host of different ways, I've already hinted a bunch of them. Pollen bomb here a few years ago. Boy, if only we had known that that was going to happen. We could have figured that out. Pollen and the production of pollen, that's a phenological event.

The mosquitoes; we're concerned about mosquitoes spreading up and spreading diseases and other vectors for Lyme disease or Dengue fever, whatever. That's a phenological event, when the mosquitoes come out and spreading disease or other disease interactions. How water moves your systems.

Farmers do phenology all the time, constantly managing the cultivars, the time they plant and the time they harvest; they're modifying that.

Fires; when the flowers on "The Lilacs" come out early before May 20th in the West United States, it's more likely to be a big fire year out there. What makes flowers come out early on "The Lilacs", warmer, dryer springs. So, soil is warmer and dryer. Their woods are warmer and dryer, a great chance of bigger fires; just using simple correlations between the records and number of large fires and the timing of flowers that come out on "The Lilacs".

Hunting seasons; when people go see pretty fall colors when we mow.

How we manage birds around the airports because we're ending up with birds that are no longer migrating. If you're managing bird populations and trying to keep out of bird engines you've got a problem here in the context of environmental variation and change and you need phenological information fast. You needed that. I will take advantage of all that.

OK, nice setup there well, team. Now, what? That's where the Phenology Network comes in. The U.S. National Phenology Network is a partnership-driven organization. I'll talk more about that in a second. It was setup when at some workshops in 2005, a bunch of scientists got together. They were trying to build this new continental instrument, another instrument called NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network.

Half a billion dollars, 60 locations across United States, they're going to monitor the heck out of everything to answer key questions about climate change impacts, biological invasions, et cetera. A really big project funded by the National Science Foundation.

There are folks there who said, "OK. You're going to monitor 60 locations across United States." NEON is a good quality and collaborator, but I will set them up a little bit. I say, "60 locations across United States, is that going to be enough locations?"

How about like phenology because it's easy to observe. It's tied to environment variation. You guys are already on board with that. You could have people do it anywhere across the entire of U.S. and have many observations and just focus on one thing, the phenology, the timing of when things happen as an early indicator of environmental change.

Hence, the National Phenology Network, the USA National Phenology Network I mentioned. There's already a bunch of other national phenology networks out there and I'm a plant ecologist, so I find myself surprised from the new data; data and information. That's actually really what we need.

There's lots of good information out there; Thorose data sets, Lewis and Clark's data sets for phenology, Aldo Leopold collected phenology information, Teddy Roosevelt was reporting to a North American Bird Phenology Program that were helping run, "On cards, I saw such and such birds arriving in North America here."

There's a lot of phenology information out there and we're trying to take that; collect and organize that historical information and bring in contemporary information and match them together to create a national network of integrated; temporally and spatially integrated for plants and animals. Observations across space and time; that means across the U.S. through time. That's what the phenology network is all about.

Base table support comes from the U.S. Geological Survey, but it was envisioned when it was set upped as a partner-driven project. That's why we're a".org"; Does USGS run a .org? I'm a USGS scientist, I'm an ecologist. I should probably shut up here, but the idea is that it's a partnership and so NASA, NOAA, Park Service, and Fish and Wild Life Service, and a lot of the other organizations has building, including BLM.

Yesterday, I was over talking with Forest Service. In the afternoon, I was talking to folks over at Smithsonian. They're all interested in being a part of this network and they can, because it's built that way. It's designed to bring together scientists, government agencies of all colors and swords, non-profit groups, tribes, educators, learners of all ages, and you all; if you're interested to track the impacts of environmental variation and climate change on plants and animals across the U.S. through this thing called "Nature's Notebook". I'll talk about it in just a minute. So, our key goal; simply, understand how plants, animals and landscapes respond to environmental variation and climate change.

What are the marmots doing? We know that the timing of when marmots come out actually affects their size at hibernation, their abundance, the number of males in the population has a lot of impacts that we never would have expected.

Pollen production, tourism; our missions are to make phenology information, data models and related information available to scientists, to resource managers, policy makers and the public. If we're trying to determine what's the relationship between phenology and fires; what's the relationship between phenology of junipers and pollen going up your nose; what's the start of the season across North America and how that relate to carbon dioxide sequestration.

Remember why Kyoto failed? Why we didn't go sign in Kyoto? Because we were pretty sure that North America is a really good sink already for carbon, so we really need to back that kind of information up with good models that show how much carbon is being produced that when the leaves come on, they start sucking up that carbon.

Our second mission: encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to observe and record phenology. Remember, it's relatively straight forward. We've got people who've been part of the historical Lilac Phenology Monitoring Network. We've got some second graders who are contributing through a collaborating project.

We've got folks down at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve who are collecting phenology information and she's actually really interested in plant, wildlife, human interactions in Tanzania and is here learning about how vegetation activity interacts with animal activity and human activity.

So, what is the network again? All of these folks. Everybody who is contributing information or using information that we generate collectively is part of the network. I'm at the national coordinating office, trying to coordinate this. These are not cats; these are herds of cats. Sometimes, you're talking to Forest Service and I'm talking to Dan Ashe.

Fish and Wildlife Service and Marsh McNeth; we told her about it the other day, gave her first briefing. She was really excited. She said, "Wow, this is a really great program because of the citizen and science components." I was like, "Woah, citizens." The part where we get the public engaged and I said, "That's nice. That's great. I was coming at it from more of a science perspective." She said, "I want to get the public involved because the public, they are collecting information and adding information to a collective knowledge, they start to trust the information because it's their information."

I said, "Well, the question I always got is about quality control. What about quality of data?" She said, "Well, they're out there with their cell phones. They're taking pictures and they got day, time and geo-location stamps on them, right?" I said, "We're working on that app right now, ma'am."

So yes, we can include the public in this network and they can be a part of it. With a little bit of training, anybody can tell you that they've see spawning salmon in the stream, white tail deer, et cetera. There's a lot of diversity out there, isn't there? How you develop a monitoring program that captures all of these for native plants and animals on a national scale?

Well we've been working on that, was working out for the last three years into the form of what we call, "Nature's Notebook" keeping tabs on what's going on with plants and animals, of phenology observation program. Nature's Notebook is one project. There are other phenology observation programs around the U.S., probably some of you are part of that.

Anybody here involved with Monarch Watch, Great Sunflower Program, eBird, Nest Watch, Ice Watch USA, Fraud USA; the list goes on and on of those kinds of organizations. After this evening, I'll fly for New York. There's a meeting, a conference over the next couple of days of people who help run those programs or called PPSRs, Public Participation in Science and Research.

A whole new field has emerged just in the last couple of years, in big part because of technology and managing information. I'm really interested in the data part. I'm interested in the science part but I'm also interested in the data part; it's like, "Wow, how is Fraud Watch USA collecting and storing and managing, and versioning, and making it available, and describing, and sharing and integrating their information, for example.

NEON, they don't have any problems. They got to have $1 billion. Fraud Watch have got about $45. We've got about $90. How do we do that in this information age? Linking science and information, people together. Relatively straight forward process, figure out what you want to look at, learn how to observe, go get reassured and start reporting.

Into what was promised in the title, Nature's Notebook, we're trying to engage citizens and scientists collect information. We have around 260 plant species. We started out very small, built the number up by vetting it with scientists, resource managers and Park Service and said, "We need species along these lines."

The NEON people said, "We need to do some phenology monitoring too. Can you make sure that you have species there that will be appropriate for all of our 60 locations?" I'm like, "Sure, no problem. Whatsoever."

Animal species as well in an integrated framework and we have people all across the nation. This figure is a little bit old. We have around 3,000 registered observers and we have some better, newer applications now, but I thought it was just really a tickle to see the observers since they might be out in Edmonton, folks up in Alaska. I think at that time we didn't have anybody yet in Hawaii.

The program's been around since 2009, basically. We opened the doors of recording offices and network in 2007. We worked very, very hard, very, very fast, building on some existing work that had already been done to get things up and rolling at 2009. We had data for plants. In 2010, we had data for animals as well.

You can go online; download the data if you're a scientist in here. I don't know who my audience is. You can download the data. You can get the metadata; it's FGDC-compliant metadata. We have data use policies about 10 pages long. You can get the information on plant-animal activity on a national scale to the nearest six decimal points on Lat-Long.

How do you that? Right now, you go to the USA-NPN webpage. We haven't split out Nature's Notebook into its own separate webpage quite yet because we're scientists. Someone said, "You need to split out Nature's Notebook from the network," which is also doing things like coordinating, remote sensing activities, bringing people together talking about carbon, et cetera.

Go to Nature's Notebook and we'll work on splitting it out as soon as we can see if we can find or buy the URL. I'm doing things I never imagined that I would ever do as a scientist; go on and buy a URL.

"First step, choose your site. This is my site. Choose it carefully."

So it's pretty and you'd like to go back to it. I started in February of last year, told my wife I'm going to do Nature's Notebook out at Pima Canyon outside of Tucson just north of town. It's about 15 minutes drive or so from my house, up to the wilderness area. It's administered by the U.S. Forest Service. It's a wilderness area in the Catalina Mountains.

She was a pretty site. I go out every week. I didn't think I would. I was like, "I'm exactly a director. I thought directors don't have to do this." I loved it. It's a good chance to get out of the house and I go up and do my phenology monitoring like pairing quarter. I'm like, "Wait, where am I going on my pairing quarter."

You are right, they are in the upland right next to it. It snowed a couple of days ago. It was great. I went up and sat on a rock and did my phenology monitoring. I'm tracking the phenology of flowering swarrows, the invasive buffalo grass and I'll tell you a few more stories about that over the next couple of slides and some of the Fremont cotton woods in the bottom of the valley, a few scattered oaks and a couple of other things. I love it. It's easy and it's fun. I get to enter my data and I could see my data right away, I'll show you that.

We've got a site, she was a pretty site. I've got to choose some organisms there. Choose from the list of species. This one here is a little innocuous-looking grass but I pulled it like I'm sure reminds you and need to address the issue that even though it's innocuous-looking, it's a real problem.

You don't have a lot of grasses in the desert. That's not where the grasses grow. Grasses grow in grasslands and deserts don't have grasses. They're not adapted to fire at all. They are very prone to fire and so, if we can keep track of when this stuff is green, we can do planning and manage when we go out with the crews to spray the herbicide on this stuff or pull it up. I'll talk more about that in a second. I'm monitoring three buffalo grass.

You can choose from the list of species. If you do see something you really want to monitor, I'm the head of research learning center here in Rock Creek Park and I want to do phenology monitoring and you don't have litered engine to the plethora to the popular on your list. Actually, we do. I'm just trying to think something we don't have on the list. We have more and more species every day.

Let us know and we'll do what we can to get the protocol to get vetted by scientists and back up on list. Choose your organism careful. Multiple individuals and prefer natural areas. Native species, mostly, although we have invasive species, we have ornamentals. We have agricultural species as well.

Got your plants or your animals? Go out and make your own observations. These are some folks who came for the George Wright Society down in New Orleans a few weeks ago. We went to Jean Lafitte Natural Historic Preserve, the Barataria Preserve and walked down the trail. We monitored red maple, a suite of birds, a few mammals, snakes, reptiles and insects as we walked along the trail.

Relatively straight forward, recording our information as we go, so we've got little nice data sheets. We don't have an app for that quite yet, we will. We record information on paper and we're working with the Park Service on a number of different projects so that's what it looks like for a grass phenoface data sheet looks complicated but that's because you might want to go out multiple times.

You don't have to and you don't have to fill out that whole data sheet if you don't want to. Each time you say, "Did you see green leaves on your buffalo grass? Yes, No, or I didn't look. Did you see seeds? Did you see emerging leaves? Did you see flowers? Yes, No," I answered. Then you can take your data and you can look at it. You can download your data if you want to. It comes as a flat CSU file. Or you can go into our digitalization tool and you could find your site.

This is Tucson, my house is about here. It takes me a few minutes to get up to the natural area and go through a conservation easement to the federal land. Up, this is wilderness area. U.S. Forest Service administers wilderness area. That's my site. I call it Lori P. McCanon site and I'm monitoring three buffalo grass there.

Look, these are my data here actually from this visualization tool. I'm just showing you one of my buffalo grasses because there's a lot of information here. I'm collecting a lot of information. It's easy. It's "Yes, No, or I didn't look." The buffalo grass lowest on the rocks, which is what I'm calling that particular individual. This is for the year 2010 from January through November. I started monitoring in about February.

I wasn't necessarily for a first flower. In fact, we have modified the system so we do what we call "status monitoring" where you go out and say, "Yes, No, I didn't look." That way people can go out anytime of the year and they can record information and it can record what we call a "negative data".

"I looked but I did not see." That's called negative data and that's really important because it tells you how often someone is going out and making those observations and the fact that they did have the skills to do that and they didn't see it so, that means, it wasn't there. It's a fantastic tool that we have developed to build on other phenology monitoring programs and you can integrate the back end.

The questions I was answering are, "Do you see emerging growth? Do you see unfolded leaves? Do you see all the leaves withered," like in that last picture. I showed you, "Do you see open flowers? Do you see ripe seeds?"

Each time I go out, "Yes, I see emerging growth here. This first time, there was emerging growth because it was early in the year; unfolded leaves because they hadn't matured and were opening up. All of these withered, now there's green growth there. Open flowers? Yes, I saw open flowers. On this grass you can see there's little antlers sticking out there. Ripe seeds, there are ripe seeds on the plant even when I started monitoring already."

I got out about every week or so on the weekends, get a two-hour break from the kids. It's great. Throughout the course of the year, I kept it up except when I went on vacation. Emerging growth soon stopped. I saw unfolded leaves. We have a pre-monsoon drought where it gets hot and dry in June. Hot and dry. This whole dry heat thing, it's just hot. Everything basically and goes dormant or not, then it picks up again when the monsoon rains start about mid-July, early August.

You know what, if you're managing buffalo grass and I'm going to lead into this little example here, you've got a problem because you've got ripe seeds all year long. If you're trying to think about, "I need to manage buffalo grass. I needed to manage the seed rain across the landscape from this invasive plant," you've got a problem because you got a lot of invasive seeds. Invasives probably go out there. See, this basically adjusts the plant to rest. It will soon be there.

This is what their landscape looks like up above me. These are these great iconic swarrows and this is a desert. This doesn't look like a desert; it looks more like a grass land and you know what, one fire and there'll be a grass land. This stuff burns hot. Burns fast. Buffalo grass, Panicum..., introduced from Africa in the mid 30s or 40s for livestock forge and erosion control on spread. It's spreading and it's a real problem in this system. This is a system that doesn't have

You saw the map a slide or two ago. You saw where Tucson sits right below this. In fact, you've got houses that are nested in this tuff; $10 million homes nested in this stuff, you've got a problem. The mayor of Tucson is well aware of this. There's an inner agency, Buffalo Grass Coordination Group, that's working on this.

Arizona had three earmarks last year. I don't know what happened to earmarks. One of them was to deal with the buffalo grass issue in a coordinated manner because you stand here in Tucson town and you look up across the little foothill and this is the Forest Service. Oaks and pines up here.

At the top, buffalo grass. These patches of buffalo grass and they are growing together. You have one source of ignition, a little lighting to strike during the monsoon season; someone walking here, boom. Up the Catalina Mountains, into the oaks and pines up above and remember how hot and dry it gets. It's a dry heat in June. We'll soon see the numbers of brush fires in downtown picking up again because buffalo grasses also invading town.

This is what we don't want. If you're the mayor, this is what you don't want. You don't want to see this kind of thing happening. Forest Service bombers are protecting these houses here in the foothills from buffalo grass fires.

This was up in Phoenix a few years ago, burned through swarrows and swarrows are gone. A lot of people come to Tucson to see swarrows. Without the swarrows, that's an issue. It's like having no territories. Imagine if there was a virus that hit those cherry trees.

People would be acting pretty quickly on that virus if they possibly could. So, you got to know something about the phenology to take care of this buffalo grass. Here's what they're doing. There's another way to paint the vegetation. They're going out with backpack sprayers and they're spraying herbicide on this buffalo grass to try to get it out of that system.

But the only way the herbicide works, anybody here who has bought a roundup from Wal-Mart, do a spray about a pint you don't do it when the plant is dormant. Do it when the plant is active, when those leaves are out early in the morning. Get that herbicide down into the roots to kill your invasive in your yard or in your natural area.

They are desperate. They are desperate; helicopter, swarrows, Tucson, herbicide spray. They are experimenting with spraying herbicides from helicopters. Broad spectrum herbicides round up to kill these grasses down in here and hopefully not kill all the native vegetation as well.

Would it be great if you had phenology information and you knew when the buffalo grass was green and that when everything else was dormant, which happens, even though it's a warm season grass, it greens up early in the year when all of the native vegetation is just kind of hanging out waiting. You need the information about that phenology.

This is one example of the way that we're using phenology information. Even I'm contributing with my buffalo grass phenology monitoring but it's just me. Anyone of you; anybody else could be tracking buffalo grass phenology. We're working with the Forest Service. There's a crew of people who are out there and were working to develop a phenology monitoring program so we can do this kind of thing.

So, get involved. This is your project. Your federal dollars are funding the development and the sustenance of Nature's Notebook. Any other organizations is part of the network if it wants to be involved in Nature's Notebook can get involved; 3,000 observers across the nation contributing on the order of around 400,000 records so far.

You could partner your organization. If anybody here has an organization like, "I'm trying to work with college students from under representing groups and get them interested in the science so that we can get down into USGS or Park Service or Fish and Wildlife Service because we need to build human capacity."

Well, here's one way to that and the folks up at the University of Maine and Maine Sea Grant, Fish and Wildlife Service, Park Service and Maine Audubon are working together to build a project called "Signs of the Seasons". They'll use Nature's Notebook as their platform because they don't have to reinvent the whole data management thing. We'll manage the data for them. We'll work together with them.

Park Services developed a new inventory monitoring program. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a brand new inventory monitoring program for all the refuges. We're working NOAA. You can get your folks engaged. Who are your people, trying to talk to it, trying to communicate with? Do they have nature deficit disorder? Probably.

Another taxi cab driver has talked to me. We were talking about nature deficit disorder a little bit with my cabbie and it was great. He knew exactly what I was talking about and he said, "Yes, there's change for me as a cabbie because people get in the backseat and when they leave they go like this." He said, "I don't have to talk to them anymore." We don't talk to each other even anymore. We don't go outside. We're just busy for it.

So, get people engaged. We know about the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center but they were like, "Wow, phenology. I've heard about that and that's pretty exciting." Let's get our constituents involved and engaged in phenology. Let's talk about it. Let's get educators here.

Let's use some new tools for communication with the American public. Let's try to go to their ground. They're tweeting and tweeting. Obviously, you can tell how old I am. YouTube, et cetera; let's use these new tools to get people engaged.

We're working on the Nature's Notebook Facebook app. That's taking a little while; got to get a few permissions to do that. Leverage on that national curiosity that's out there. We were an agrarian society. We still are, we just don't realize it.

Lewis and Clark, when they went with the corps discovery Jefferson said, "Go west with your core discovery and keep track of with manner of things that are flying and what not and when it happens," because they needed to know when ice went out on the streams and when the salmon are running and when the flowers came out or when the oak leaves were the size of the mountains here so they didn't want to plant the corn or that axiom.

People are naturally curious but it ties back to human evolution, I believe. You got a great opportunity in your backyard to do phenology monitoring. I'm working with Giselle Mora. I think she's at Rock Creek Park right here, at the research learning center. She's interested in doing a phenology monitoring project. We've got folks all across the nation saying, "This is a good way to engage the public."

I chose the cherry blossoms. That's pretty iconic, of course because everyone is really tuned into the phenology and recall, that not one single person out there goes, "I'm here to monitor the phenology of the cherry blossoms around the tidal basin," but that's what they're doing. Imagine if they are recording the information. Or if they've been doing that for 30 years like the folks at the Smithsonian had been doing.

Cherry blossoms, as it turns out, the phenology is advanced for only about seven days over the last 30 years based on the Smithsonian records. Sylvia Orli, who I visited yesterday, "I'm not sure. Is that climate change or is that urban heat island effect or what, but it's changing."

But a lot of plants have changed a lot more than that. Some as few as just four to four or five days; others have changed up to 44 days over that 30-year period, a whole month and a half earlier. Like grapes in German valleys sometimes come 30 days earlier. You got to manage your migrant populations if you're going to pick those grapes.

I'd like to just wrap up there and just say thank you very much for coming and just remind you that Nature's Notebook is just one tool that you can use to monitor phenology. There are other projects out there; Project BudBurst, Monarch Watch, Monarch Life, Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. The list already goes on and on, but all of these are very good ways to get people involved.

"Why is he talking about other projects now?" It's because we're a network. To be honest, frankly, I don't really care where the information comes from as long as its good information, good data and we can use it and apply it to understand the passive nature on a national scale.

So, check us out at, sign up for Nature's Notebook. Learn how to persuade, get your classes, get your constituents involved. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I have time for few questions.

How do we decide what to include, what species to include on our list of potential organisms for monitoring? That was tricky. We started that work in 2005 before the network even got started because some people had been thinking about building on a historic Lilac Monitoring Project. It started in 1954 in Montana by a fellow named Joe Caprio.

They brought Joe up to Montana to develop a climate logical observation and monitoring program weather. But they are, at the time, when he sat that up back in the 50s there were like five or six weather stations in Montana. But he walked out at his back door one time and everybody's got a lilac and the lilacs is blooming so then, maybe there's a link issue between the lilacs and what's going on with temperatures around the state.

Sure enough, there were very, very good correlations between what we call "Growing Degree Days." It's accumulated heat in the system when the lilacs emerge. He was able to start building a Lilac Phenology Monitoring Program in Montana, spread it through the 13 states. It was later replicated in the eastern half of the U.S. with a clone of lilacs, so we fixed the genetic information. There's actually Clone Lilac Network as well and we've all brought all of that stuff together into the current network.

Lilacs don't grow everywhere though. They don't grow very well in the east to the west. They need a cold chilling requirement. Mark Schwarz was at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, who was sort of the father of that lilac network. He said, "I need more species; more native species because I'm trying to do this geographic perspective on climate change and climatic variation, environmental variation." So, he created another 50 or so species that he thought would be good and sensitive indicators.

We took those lists and we brought a bunch of scientists. When you put a bunch of scientists together in a room you say, "Out of the 16,000 plants across United States or18,000 can't keep track of the number anymore, which 20 or 50 or 100 should we have?" There was a lot of talk and a lot of work about species who were relatively easy to identify, widely distributed, economically important, important for other reasons like they're pragmatic invasives, would engage particular groups' constituents, et cetera. We built a decision matrix and then we looked through and found text that we felt would be important.

The question is, "Do you put in things that you think are sensitive to climate change or environmental variation or not? Do you even have that information?" I argue we don't really have that information for 98% of the species out there. We don't know whether they are sensitive or not to environmental variation.

As it turns out, being sensitive is actually a good thing. When your environment changes around you, if you just stay firm and brittle, you got a problem. But if you can kind of flex and adapt to that environment like the oak and the moth, you're fine. But that pied flycatcher, brittle, not responding to the environment change.

We had to do a lot of thinking. The same thing for animals, we vetted the list out across the nation and now, we've developed here a list of 200 species. These are the recommended species for the nation. Since you do that, someone wants the 201st species, that's not on the list. We've been working on extending that list out, so all of 19 Park Service units in California will be doing phenology monitoring service like comprehensive competition, a grant, two Park Service. A CESU chief coordinator there is running this and she is implementing phenology monitoring at six national parks this spring. Joshua Tree is the very first one. The other five and across biogeographic regions and then all of 19 parks next year if they can get people on board.

This is even independent of the IMN network, the Inventory Monitoring Network. So, we also work with the IMN folks too because a number of IMN, if you're with the Inventory and Monitoring Park Service, I don't know exactly my audience, there are vital signs that they're using for monitoring.

They said we need California tax. I'm like, "OK. Well, we have the national list. Let's try to get it some good California tax as well." We built that up, so each time we add species we vet the protocols back through the scientific community, the measuring community. We say, "Are these the protocols that you want to have for these particular species?" That's kind of a long answer to your question there.

Now, the issue is we've got so many. There's no longer are issue to the side which ones you should monitor. It's your issue. You're a park. You're trying to decide which of these 700 should you monitor. Well, which ones are important to you? Is Joshua tree important to you; if you're at Joshua Tree National Park, probably? It's on our list now, in part because it wasn't for a while and we had a national list. We've got it on the list.

They're really interested in that because it's predicted that Joshua Tree National Park will become just "National Park". I don't know what they'll call it, they still call it Joshua Tree National Park. Well, that's a problem with the Catalina; we don't have buffalo grass out there at Joshua Tree National Park yet crossing everything..

But seriously, the seeds of Joshua trees need a cold stratification period. It has to be a cold period before they'll germinate. With the right threshold in many places and with warming winter conditions especially, minimums are increasing.

It's not the maximums necessarily that are increasing, despite what happened in Europe and Chicago with heat stress a few years ago. It's the winter time temperatures and the night time temperatures that are increasing, so you don't have the low lows that we used to have.

They're very concerned about Joshua Tree National Park and the sustainability of the fixed boundaries and the population of Joshua trees within the park. We need more and better information that's a pretty well known system. We know that system is an iconic species. We know a lot about it but we need more information like that so that we can better manage the systems in the time of change.


I don't have it on my website. It's in the paper by Camille Parmesan. Actually, the bar graph itself is not in the paper. I took the data from a table because you can fit that much information into a table in Global Change Biology a lot easier than it takes of a big figure.

I took the data from the table. I left off the standard errors, which indicates the variation around the estimate and I made a graph like that. It's in Global Change Biology 2007, Camille Parmesan like the cheese. Get that and if you can't find it, let me know and I'll give it to you. I'd be happy to share that figure with you.

What I'd like to do is go ahead and convert this presentation to a PDF and I'll put it up on the NPN webpage. If you go to, I think, it's Resources, Presentations, there's a list of recent presentations. I think parts of this maybe have been recorded, at least the audio perhaps. I think the hope is that there'll be a podcast that will come out of this as well. We'll try to get that link to that podcast up there as well.

All of this information is all open sourced. Everything is available. We use open sourced computer code. We use open sourced software so that everybody can come in and use this. They can replicate the whole system if they want the phenology protocols. We would like to serve them to you using web services if you want.

The data are available. They are readily and freely available. Anybody can use these data.

There's a question here?

Yes, that's a great question. Two parts to my answer; one is that we have actually done very little work ourselves with the data. We want to get that into the hands of scientists and the public to do things that they need to do for their research or their decision making or their policies.

We do a little data summary each year. We're working on the data summary for 2010. Right now, because there's a few of us in the office. Sounds like a big project. It is a big project. We've got about five full time staff in our office, that's it. As soon as we get our communications director on board, so four of us, and the number of the people who are volunteering their part-time.

We partner with the Wildlife Society. We have a TWS employee. The only TWS employee who doesn't sit in Bethesda sits in Tucson at our office. We can work that out with Michael Hutchins. He's been fantastic.

I said multiple parts to my answer, didn't I? The other question though is kind of more about what have we seen in terms of the spatial patterns that we see.

When we first looked at the very first data that came off; in fact, just check our visualization tools, and I didn't have the space to put it in there but click on "Visualizations" and go to the map and you can see what species are people monitoring or where are they. We've got red maple all the way from Louisiana, all the way up to Maine.

You can run an animation that will show you the data themselves whenever there was an observation of a leaf or a flower or whatever. You can layer on person-generated chronological data in there as well. You can see how that changes. It's not daily; it's monthly and annual. That's a bit of a pain as all observers can do to handle that.

But we do want to work with NOAA to get the daily data so you can actually calculate Growing Degree Days or heat accumulation on the fly on a national scale and use that to try to predict patterns of red maple flowering from Louisiana to Maine; that is something that we'd like to be able to make available to anybody to be able to do and to have people go out and explore that.

In terms of that, lateral variation from south to north, we know that the greatest changes in observed temperatures in the northern hemisphere based on instrumental records are at the northern latitudes because there's some positive feedback affects at high latitudes. Changes in snow and ice in particular that magnify the impact of a small amount of warming that we've seen down here. It's greater up there.

They are science, yes indeed, that is having a disproportionate impact as well on communities in ways we didn't never ever would have predicted. You've see buildings falling off the edge of the sea, falling off the edge of town into the sea. That's because there's no sea ice there to buffer the shore from those big fall storms. Normally, there would have been. It would have been locked up by November. Now, there's no ice there in November.

We're getting killer whales in the lagoons there at Inuvik upon the Arctic Ocean.

We're seeing the New NEVAT Times. New NEVAT is the Old Northwest Territories in the northeastern part of the nation. The New NEVAT Times on the front page, "What is that red-breasted bird that you're seeing here so much now when you never saw it there before?" It's because yes, robins. They were occasional in the northern part of the North America. They are now actually starting to nest up there, so people have seen them a lot more. So, you're seeing changes in species distributions.

Pollen season; in Corpus Christi from rag weed hasn't changed very much from June until about October. But as you move further and further north up the Great Plains to the Canadian border, the pollen season is actually nearly a month and a half longer up there than it used to be historically. The authors of that paper that came out in PNS, folks from the RDC, a number of other folks suggested, actually it might be because of disproportionate warming that occurs there.

It's a fall phenology event. The pollen stops being produced when the first rays come in the fall. It doesn't start flowering and producing pollen until after the days start getting shorter. It's amazing what drives organisms. They call it a short-day plant. It doesn't start to produce flowers and pollen until after the 20th of June. When the days start getting shorter, boom, out comes the flowers and so the first frost would admit that. There's been no nipping in Corpus and much, much less nipping. There's a delay in the first frost in the fall.

USDA Hardiness zones have moved up so if you're a gardener and you're trying to figure out if I'm in zone five, or six, or Seven? Well, you used to be in Zone Five but now you can be in zone seven. There are some places where the zones have actually shifted two layers. Not from five to six, but from five to seven.

How do they make those mapped? It's just minimum temperatures. That's all it is; in very, very simple algorithms. Arbor Day Foundation rebuilt those maps and it's amazing. You can look at the old USDA Hardiness zones and Arbor Day Foundation came and said, "Well, what's the algorithm that you used? It's very simple. Let's just recreate that. We'll rebuilt the map, put it on side by side, do a little change map." Check it out at Arbor Day Foundation website.

It's going to affect what kinds of things you can plant and when you plant them. We're concerned about frost incidents. The last frost in a lot of places hasn't changed, the last frost date because there's nothing to stop those big cold Atlanta and Saskatchewan clippers from coming down across eastern United States.

But it's been warm for weeks but still you have a big blast of cold arctic air. So, frosts aren't necessarily the change. In the western U.S. it is actually changing. It's differing; there's barriers of mountains and whatnot, but because you have these warmer conditions, you're going to have more and more situations where you have big freezes like the Easter Freeze 2007 across the Bible Belt, reduced the pecan production in Arkansas or Alabama from 7,000 tons to 7,000 pounds for that year because of the Big Freeze that came through; phenomenal freeze.

We have to watch our shifting baseline. How do we keep track of that stuff? Our understanding of what's going on in our backyard changes each year because things change. It's been a long time, 365 days ago. If you write it down in Nature's Notebook, you're actually kind of keep track of that that way and then we can use that information to really engage you, the public, and create greater trust in trying to understand how systems change and why they're changing.



Last edited 4/26/2016

Learn the science behind bloom time and how your own observations of cherry blossoms and other dynamic life cycles in nature –or phenology – can help scientists monitor climate change and examine shifts in nature's calendar. Jake F. Weltzin, US Geological Survey Ecologist and Executive Director of the USA National Phenology Network discusses how scientists use information about phenology to better understand the delicate interaction between plants and animals, climate change, and environmental health.