Nature’s Notebook

Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet

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You can learn more about recent phenology research in the publication summaries below.

Phenology information can improve ecological restoration

Restoration is a vital process to return degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems to a state where they can support species of interest. While plant and animal phenology information is often used to determine the impact of environmental change on plants and animals, this information has not been widely used in the context of ecological restoration.  The authors found that phenology information improved restoration projects, informing what and when to plant, improving the timing of management actions, and increasing the efficiency of post-restoration monitoring. Adding phenology information into the toolkit of restoration managers will help them to be more efficient and effective in their restoration actions.

Large herbivores track high-protein forage in spring

Finding high-quality foraging areas is crucial for hungry herbivores in the spring months. Researchers of a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B studied five species of herbivores in Wyoming and Utah to see whether animals matched their movements with the spring green-up of their forage across the landscape. They found that 7 of the 10 populations studied selected patches of forage in the early growth stage, supporting the hypothesis that these animals track the green wave. Learning more about how animals select habitat patches, and how much flexibility exists in their behavior, will help managers to protect these species in the face of future climate change and land development.

Spring is advancing in three of every four National Parks

A new study by researchers at the USA-National Phenology Network, US Geological Survey, University of Arizona, Schoodic Institute, Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee shows that climate change is already happening on public lands. The authors found that spring is advancing in 76% of the 276 Parks studied, and 53% of parks are experiencing extreme early springs that exceed 95% of historical conditions. Better knowledge of warming trends will help Parks to treat invasive species, operate visitor facilities, and schedule popular climate-related events, such as flower festivals and fall leaf-viewing. 

Early springs and late-season freezes may become the new normal

The “false spring” of 2012 was the earliest in an over 100 year record, and resulted in large-scale agricultural losses. To find out if these types of springs will become more common in the future, researchers used new climate change simulation models, including the USA-NPN’s Spring Indices, to distinguish natural climate fluctuations from longer-term trends. They found that by mid-century, we could see springs like that of 2012 as often as one out of every three years. They also found last freeze dates may not change at the same rate, resulting in more large-scale tissue damage and agricultural losses.

Nature’s Notebook observations help to manage invasive buffelgrass

Buffelgrass, an invasive perennial grass that responds well to fire and outcompetes natives, threatens to transform the current Sonoran desert landscape. Managers need to treat buffelgrass with herbicides when the plant is at least 50% green. The authors of a new study in the journal Remote Sensing found that buffelgrass responds quickly to rain, with plant green up occurring twice as fast in areas with buffelgrass than areas with mostly native vegetation. This information will help managers know when to get out to spray buffelgrass. Studies such as this, which integrate on-the-ground observations of phenology with satellite data, demonstrate the power of multiple data sources to inform management activities.

Nature’s Notebook observations validate remotely-sensed data

While there is great potential in linking data collected by observers on the ground and data collected by remote satellites, few studies have successfully combined these two types of data. Researchers from the Appalachian Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science compared observations of leaf phenology collected through the Nature’s Notebook PopClock campaign to continental-scale satellite imagery collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS). They implemented three quality control procedures that resulted in a high correlation between the two datasets (r2 = 0.67). Being able to more easily combine citizen science and remotely-sensed data will give scientists a large amount of information over a range of geographic scales, to better understand the response of forest plants to future changes in climate.  

Kodiak brown bears are synced with the salmon red wave

Authors of a study from the University of Montana, University of Wyoming, and US Fish and Wildlife Service investigated how well Kodiak brown bears track spawning salmon. Bears greatly depend on this salmon resource, which is threatened by habitat fragmentation and low diversity of spawning phenology that can be introduced by hatchery stocks. 

Finer resolution models provide local predictions of leaf-out in California oaks

Researchers from Princeton, Chapman University, and UCLA developed models of valley oak leaf-out under past and future climate scenarios to test how changing the spatial scale of these models affects leaf-out. The authors used data collected by the California Phenology Project, which began in 2010 and is part of the USA National Phenology Network, to validate their models of valley oak leaf-out before downscaling the models to create local predictions of leaf-out.

Climate change means snowshoe hares stand out like lightbulbs against a snowless background

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Montana found weekly survival decreases of up to 7% for hares that had coat color that was mismatched with their surroundings, making them stand out like lightbulbs on a dark background. The researchers used models to predict how the population of hares is likely to change given the survival rates they observed. Under future climate change scenarios, they project that hare populations could decrease by up to 23% by the end of the century. 

Herbarium records provide insight to flowering phenology in the Southeast U.S.

Flowering in sub-tropical regions is thought to be more sensitive to temperature than precipitation, though this has not been widely studied. The authors of this study looked at herbarium records of over 1700 native herbaceous flowering plant species from South Carolina from 1951 to 2009. They found plants with early spring, late spring, and summer flowering were all responsive to increasing February and March temperatures. 

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