Science for Everyone

Monitoring Phenology on Hurricane Island

Post by Chloe Tremper, Science Educator

Newly broken leaves on the Horse chestnut. Taken May 15, 2015 

Since arriving on Hurricane earlier this month, I have been focusing on the phenology, or what I like to call the FUNology, of Hurricane Island.  Phenology is the study of the timing of events in the growth and life cycles of plants and animals.  When we monitor phenology, we are observing and recording the seasonal changes that occur in the natural world. In this day and age, when climate change is at the forefront of the scientific community, it is becoming more and more important to regularly record changes because overtime those data can unveil larger trends like flowers blooming a day earlier each year or birds arriving weeks earlier than they did in the past.  While it may not sound like the most exciting thing to do, monitoring the phenological changes happening around us opens up an entire new world of discovery and brings awareness to how climate change is impacting our own backyards.

First blooms on the Horse chestnut, taken June 3, 2015

Last year, we established four phenology monitoring sites on the island.  One in the flywheel field, one near the Ice Pond, one at Gibbon’s Point, and one by the lab.  At each site we have designated plants that we go to regularly and record observations for.  The species we monitor include trees such as red spruce, balsam fir, apple, and quaking aspens; shrubs like red-berried elderberry, snowberry, lilac, and beach rose; and wildflowers including orange hawkweed, starflower, beach pea, and Canada mayflower.  Some of the key phenological changes we monitor in plants are when leaf buds break, when flowers bloom, when fruits are produced, and when leaves begin to fall off.

This year, we have made some tweaks to improve our phenology monitoring, and in order to have time to make more frequent observations at the other sites, I decided to eliminate the flywheel monitoring site.  In addition to adding a few new plants, we have also started monitoring the phenological changes of birds on the island.  As you probably know, many of the birds that call Hurricane home during the summer migrate south for the winter.  By going out every few days to each phenology site, identifying and counting birds heard or seen nearby, and recording behavioral observations we get a better idea of how bird populations fluctuate throughout the seasons – what species arrive when, when chicks begin to fledge, when species leave for the season, etc. 

By collecting the same data every year on the same individual plants and monitoring birds at the same spots, over time we will have a huge database of phenological information that we can use to monitor long term changes in the life cycles of plants and animals on Hurricane.

All of the phenology observations we collect are entered on Nature’s Notebook, an online database of phenological changes across the United States.   Data entered onto this website is also used by scientists around the globe for phenology research.  Nature's Notebook has a great app available for iPhones and Androids, as well as a website, where you can start your own phenology monitoring sites or trails.  So get out there and enjoy this beautiful world we live in while also collecting valuable data to help scientists!

Subscribe in a reader