Seth Benz, director of the Bird Ecology Lab at the Schoodic Education and Research Center of Acadia National Park, discusses the importance of bird observation as the seasons turn. He says detailed information on fall behaviors can help scientists puzzle out the effects of climate change on different species. Benz notes that while animal numbers and locations are crucial, bird diet is also of great interest. See his tips here.
Tips for fall observation! Professor Lois Stack of UMaine offers Signs of the Seasons volunteers helpful pointers as we move into fall, a season of dramatic change that offers many opportunities to see phenology in action. In fact, detailing changes to plant life is every bit as crucial now as in the spring. See her tips here.
Signs of the Seasons is expanding its reach beyond the state of Maine. The program has begun training volunteers in New Hampshire and changing its focus to New England as a whole. “The program has attracted interest outside the state of Maine and we want to invite interested volunteers to join us in observing the detailed turns of phenology,” said program director Ezperanza Stancioff, a Climate Change Educator at University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant. She said the program is open to further expansion in the New England region. Please contact us for additional information.
Dr. Orrin Shane’s lifelong interest in milkweed began when he was a boy in the 1940s. He and his childhood friends picked bushels of the plants for the war effort. The fluffy insides of pods were used to fill life preservers for soldiers overseas. “That was my introduction to milkweed,” Shane said. “It is a plant of many faces.” Today, as a volunteer of the Signs of the Seasons phenology program, Shane regularly observes milkweed for signs of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars. He found his current stand accidentally after a futile search of his Portland neighborhood. Read more.
Maine’s hearty pod-bearing milkweed is an essential part of seasonal change. The stalky perennial provides annual food and shelter to butterflies in all stages of metamorphosis. The insects depend on the safe haven provided by Maine’s three types of milkweed plants: the sun-loving butterfly and common types and the purple-flowered swamp variety. Maine gardeners also plant non-native species as ornamentals or to attract butterflies. Found primarily in North America, the plant provides butterflies and caterpillars shelter, food and defense against predators. Monarchs, for example, lay their eggs almost exclusively on milkweed. After hatching, monarch larvae feed on the leaves, ingesting the plant’s toxins. This brilliant trick of nature makes both caterpillars and butterflies unpalatable to predators such as birds and small rodents. Read more
Signs of the Seasons is a citizen science program that engages children and adults in science through observation of plant and animal phenology. What is phenology? It is the study of the seasonal timing of recurring life events, such as animal migrations, insect metamorphoses and foliage changes. Many of these “signs of the seasons” have shifted as a result of a changing climate. Observation of what is happening and when in one’s backyard or local park helps scientists and managers answer questions that affect Maine’s forests, crops, and day-to-day lives. “Fishermen and farmers understand the timing of life cycles of plants and animals,” said Esperanza Stancioff, climate change educator for University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Maine Sea Grant program and co-coordinator of the program with Beth Bisson of Maine Sea Grant. “It is a part of their daily lives to observe and note changes. For example, lobstermen know when the lobsters generally shed.” Maine lobstermen were shocked last year to find lobsters shedding their shells in late spring, earlier than had been seen in recent history. Read the rest of the article.
Frank Drummond, entomologist at the University of Maine, was quoted in a TakePart article titled “Is climate change threatening Maine’s staple foods?” Drummond spoke about the spotted wing drosophila, a new fruit fly that is targeting the state’s blueberries. Drummond said the pests need to be monitored and managed, but harvesting berries earlier and using an experimental mesh trap could help keep the flies off the berries.
The effects of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on plant and bird communities in coastal marshes from Maine to Virginia are the focus of a 10-state study by researchers from the University of Maine, University of Connecticut, University of Delaware and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Information gathered from more than 1,700 sites before and after the October 2012 hurricane will advance researchers’ understanding of how major disturbances affect these populations and what characteristics make a marsh more vulnerable. The data will also provide information on the allocation of millions of dollars of federal restoration funds, coastal management planning and the status of species at risk of endangerment. The yearlong study was awarded nearly $200,000 from the National Science Foundation and is part of the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program, which was founded by a group of academic, governmental and nonprofit collaborators — including UMaine — to provide tidal-marsh bird conservation information. Brian Olsen, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is a co-principal investigator of the study. Maureen Correll, an ecology and environmental Ph.D. student in Olsen’s lab, is working on the project as part of her dissertation. Two additional student researchers from UMaine are expected to participate in the study. See the article here.
UMaine researchers incorporate “chemical phenology” into their studies of the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems.
In this interview, Ivan J. Fernandez, Professor of Soil Science, School of Forest Resources and Climate Change Institute, discusses research in which he and graduate student Erin Redding set out to discover if the chemical composition of forest foliage could be used to monitor climate change effects on nutrient cycling in forest, a concept dubbed “chemical phenology”.
Fernandez has spent nearly 30 years studying the response of ecosystems to perturbations, or abrupt changes that set a system out of equilibrium. He has been involved with the Bear Brook Watershed project since the late 1980’s when experiments conducted there helped guide policy decisions related to the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act of 1990.
Wondering why this year’s milkweed shoots are coming out in different places than last year’s? Uncertain which forsythia buds are flowers versus leaves? Is there a difference? Lois Stack helps answer typical questions Signs of the Seasons volunteers may have when setting out to observe plants in spring. Lois is a professor of sustainable agriculture at UMaine and a Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture. For years, she offered viewers gardening tips on the WABI-TV’s “Weekend Gardener” program and also wrote a regular horticulture column for the Kennebec Journal. See Lois’ spring observation tips.