Phenology in the Garden

May 27th, 2014 9:47 AM
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Before the age of soil thermometers, farmers used clues from nature to determine the appropriate times to plant.  Their observations have transformed into local lore that can still be of use today.  Species with temperature dependent phenophases can signal appropriate times to plant crops or take action for pest management.  Read more

SSI Research Cited in National Climate Assessment Report

May 20th, 2014 12:07 PM
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Research being conducted through Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative was cited in the the newly released National Climate Assessment report, which found global warming is affecting life in Maine and other New England states.

Under the “Selected Adaptation Efforts” of the Northeast section of the report, it reads:

“Officials in coastal Maine are working with the statewide Sustainability Solutions Initiative to identify how culverts that carry stormwater can be maintained and improved, in order to increase resiliency to more frequent extreme precipitation events. This includes actions such as using larger culverts to carry water from major storms.”

The paragraph is referring to a project being conducted by SSI researchers Shaleen Jain, an associate professor of civil engineering; Esperanza Stancioff, an educator with UMaine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant; and Alexander Gray, a research assistant.

The “Helping Communities Weather the Storm” project aims to help Maine communities better understand and prepare for the potential local impacts of climate change.

The research is part of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center, which is supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

Phenology in latest National Climate Assessment Report

May 7th, 2014 2:46 PM
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According to the National Climate Assessment, plant and animal species are used by humans for food, infrastructure and medicine, in addition to the roles they play as members of an ecosystem.  Increases in temperature and varying rain patterns modify relationships between organisms that have traditionally coexisted.  Scientists have already documented mismatches in symbiotic species that did not alter the timing of their phenophases in the same manner.  Data also show that native species are extending their habitat ranges north and to higher elevations.  At the same time, invasive species are migrating into new locations.  All of these shifts will have significant effects on ecosystem health and will alter our ability to utilize these species as we once did.

The recently released National Climate Assessment details both observed changes and predicted outcomes for the US over the next hundred years.  Each section contains key messages that summarize the findings for that topic.  Information on seasonal changes can be found in the section on Ecosystems and Biodiversity.  It is also possible to examine the overall effects of climate change on our region in the Northeast section.

Your observations assist scientists in measuring the extent of the adjustments made by specific organisms.  A nationwide database, such as Nature’s Notebook, helps to increase our understanding of shifts in phenology by giving scientists the ability to quantify real change.  Gathering evidence to develop a knowledge base is the first step when creating policies that will benefit Earth’s inhabitants.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: The Journey North

May 6th, 2014 5:41 PM
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Waiting to see a ruby-throated hummingbird at your Signs of the Seasons site in New England?  They migrated south last fall as the daylight hours were reduced and food became scarce.  Now, as sources of nectar blossom this spring, the hummingbirds are returning to their northern breeding grounds.

These tiny birds are on the move!  Click here to see an animation of their progress and don’t forget to record any of your own sightings in Nature’s Notebook.

Researchers examine factors affecting flowering plant bloom patterns

May 2nd, 2014 8:00 AM
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A worldwide trend of earlier spring has researchers examining changes in the timing of plant phenophases and teasing apart possible causes.  Long term studies of flowering plants show shifted bloom patterns, earlier flowers in the spring for some species and later blooms in the fall for others.  Warming has been identified as a factor, but new studies suggest that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the availability of ground water also have an impact.  Read more.

Learning the sounds of spring

April 30th, 2014 8:00 AM
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Camouflaged spring peeper

Image source: J.D. Willson

Signs of the Seasons added three amphibian species in 2014: American toad, spring peeper, and wood frog.  While camouflage makes these species challenging to spot, distinctive calls allow observers to identify them using sound.  Hear their calls and practice identification at the USGS Frog Quizzes page.  Use the “Frog Call Lookup” section to play audio clips from each species.

The Future of Sugar Maples in Maine

April 29th, 2014 7:44 AM
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Sugar maple leaves

Sugar maple leaves. B. Bisson, Maine Sea Grant.

Predictions for future climate change may be varied, but the data suggest that the maple tapping season is happening earlier each year.  This, however, may be an oversimplification of the trend.  UMaine graduate student Jenny Shrum is looking deeper to determine connections between weather conditions and the rate of sap flow.  An understanding of these relationships may help syrup producers to better predict the best time to tap, allowing syrup production to continue even as conditions change.   Read more.

False warming events create challenges for species

April 28th, 2014 11:01 AM
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Trends in ecology show that many organisms have been adjusting to a shifting climate.  Some species have modified the timing of certain life events, changing their phenology to match new conditions.  Others seek more favorable surroundings by moving to higher elevations or shifting their territory north in latitude.  Gradual changes allow for these periods of adjustment.  Unfortunately, scientists are finding that the overall trend towards early warming is being accompanied by the unpredictability of sudden cold snaps.  This quick return of winter weather can be very destructive for the species we have come to appreciate as signs of spring.  Read more.

Wildflower bloom patterns illustrate changes in phenology

April 22nd, 2014 8:31 AM
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Researcher David Inouye has been observing flowers in the Rocky Mountains for 39 years. His recent published findings show changes in bloom patterns that provide clues to a shifting global climate. Of the species examined, two thirds have adjusted the timing of their blooms, with over a third of the species reaching peak bloom earlier than in previous years. Some species are blooming earlier, while others are continuing to bloom later. These changes have extended the flowering season by over a month.

Will the bloom pattern continue to change in future years? How will these changes affect birds and insects that help pollinate flowering plants or depend on them for food? Signs of the Seasons volunteers help scientists to answer similar phenology questions in New England by recording their observations. To join this dedicated group, visit How to Get Involved and learn more about collecting data in your own community. Further information on Dr. Inouye’s research is available at ScienceDaily1.

1University of Maryland. “Rocky mountain wildflower season lengthens by more than a month.” ScienceDaily. 17 March 2014.

Free Press Advances Training Sessions to Help with Climate Research

April 2nd, 2014 2:50 PM
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The Free Press reported the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant will offer free training sessions for Signs of the Seasons, a program for volunteers to contribute local plant and animal life-cycle data for climate change research. Sessions are open to all interested volunteers, and registration is required. Sessions in the midcoast area will be held March 22 in Newcastle, March 25 in Belfast and April 5 in Boothbay.