Phenology is the study of the seasonal timing of cyclical life events, such as bird, fish, mammal, and butterfly migrations and reproduction, insect emergence and metamorphosis, and plant leafing, blooming, fruiting, and foliage changes. Many organisms, including humans, depend on the historically predictable nature of these seasonal changes. For example, songbirds migrating north in springtime depend on similar timing for the emergence of the insect species they eat.
Scientists, naturalists, farmers, gardeners, fishermen, and many others have been recording their observations of seasonal phenology changes for centuries. A patchwork of records exists in notebooks and logbooks, ledgers, and bills of sale. Matching historical observations with more recent ones has allowed climate scientists to identify shifts in long-term phenology trends that closely match our records of Earth’s warming temperature.
Phenology and Climate: The Importance of Long-term Data
Follow this link to read more about why phenology data (including Henry David Thoreau’s) are so valuable to researchers trying to understand how climate change may affect our lives and the natural environment around us.
Read about graduate student, Allyson Byrd’s, research using 25 years of breeding season data, other long-term habitat data, and behavioral observations of loons. These and other data sets are being used to help researchers predict conditions that would cause loons in New England to decline.
Listen to this Wisconsin Public Radio interview with Dr. Stanley Temple, who held the same teaching position for 32 years that Aldo Leopold held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Temple describes the massive effort Leopold made to collect phenology data about wild species at his shack on the Wisconsin River, and how those data compare to more recent sets collected by others, including Leopold’s daughter, Nina Leopold Bradley. Temple discusses the climate-related implications for wild species in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
“Robins used to be a sign of spring,” Delta Willis, senior communications manager for the National Audubon Society, pointed out. “Now they appear throughout the winter.”
The study of birds and bird migration has been ongoing for decades, if not centuries. How will birds and their movements be affected by changing temperatures and climate? Read a bit of the history of birdwatching, and about research that has tracked spring arrival dates of 107 migratory bird species in Maine.
Image Description: Monarch butterflies in migration
Image Description: Graduate Student Alyson Byrd holding a loon on a boat
Image Description: Dr. Stanley Temple, smiling at the camera