In an endeavor to take a closer look at the possible effects of climate change, we began a plot-based phenology project in October of 2010. For this study, we partner with the National Phenology Network, a continent-wide citizen science effort to document phenological changes. We established 8 phenology plots that we visit weekly during the transitional seasons, spring and fall. The National Park Service has established almost 30 similar plots across the Smokies, representing different elevations, aspects, and forest types. We monitor the seasonal changes of individual trees in each plot, allowing us to track subtle shifts over time.
In the spring, participants track leaf emergence, blooming wildflowers, and the arrival of migratory songbirds. In the fall, we focus on ripening fruit, leaf loss and the departure of our migratory birds. Volunteers and participants become deeply connected to these small plots of land because they come to know each tree, rock, and wildflower.
While we expect to observe changes in the phenology of the trees, wildflowers and birds over time, we are specifically interested to see how these changes affect species interactions. For example, if a tree produces leaves earlier in the spring, the caterpillars that feed on that tree’s leaves might also begin to emerge sooner so they can take advantage of the succulent young vegetation. Will migratory birds then find the need to shift their arrival date so they do not miss out on this important resource?
We enter the data we collect into Nature’s Notebook online, or input data directly in the field using the Nature’s Notebook app.
We now have over 100 volunteer phenologists in the Smokies and have won a national award for achieving relevance through public engagement and resource stewardship.
You can monitor trees, shrubs, or animals in your own backyard or schoolyard by making observations through Nature’s Notebook. Track seasonal changes in your area by using their Visualization Tool.
To get involved, just choose a plant or animal, create a Nature’s Notebook account, and go observe! You can record data directly using the Nature’s Notebook app, or print datasheets off of Nature’s Notebook to take in the field.
Teachers: If you’d like to set up a plot similar to ours, we’ve done the legwork for you! Use our datasheets and phenophase description sheet below. These materials are formatted for plots with multiple trees.
Student Phenology Data Sheet – If you have numerous trees to check and a classroom of students, you can give each student a few of these half-sheet forms to take with them to their tree. Each half-sheet form corresponds to one tree. You would then transfer their information to a single data sheet for that plot.
Questions? Contact Tiffany@gsmit.org