Do you love the color of the leaves in the fall? Can you finish the expression, “April showers bring…”? If so then you have a basic understanding of an aspect of natural science known as PHENOLOGY.
Phenology is the study of the seasonal timing of when plants and animals move through different phases of their life cycles. Because these phases are often triggered by things like temperature, hours of sunlight, amount of precipitation and other seasonal occurrences the collection of data about when these phases occur can help scientists understand more about living things and if climate change is causing these occurrences to occur at earlier or later times of the year.
For a quick overview of phenology in action, check out this time lapse video of One Year In 40 Seconds.
Spring Time Activities
Spring is a great time to explore phenology because so much activity is triggered by the warming weather and lengthening days. You can see the early stages of the life cycle of so many plants and animals just by going outside and observing.
Activity 1: For this activity you simply need to observe plants in your backyard, neighborhood or a park you can visit on a regular basis. Take along a calendar or notebook to record observations about what changes you see taking place with a particular plant over time. Observe changes such as:
When do you see the leaf buds swelling?
When do flowers appear?
When do you see insects using that plant for food?
When do flowers begin to wilt and drop their petals? When does the plant produce seed?
As you make your observations do some research on that particular plants life cycle and figure out how seasonal changes bring about each phase and how that phase helps the plant grow and reproduce. This would be a great time to start a nature journal and incorporate drawings or photographs of the same plant and how it changes from one observation to the next.
Activity 2: In the early spring go out and look for the first spring flowers, the ephemperals. These small woodland flowers develop sooner than many wildflowers because they need to flower and set seed before the trees around them make so much shade that they can’t get sunlight. Use our Ephemeral Guide to try and locate some of these flowers in a wooded park near you. How does the life cycle of these flowers relate to the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor?
Activity 3: Take some time to observe the birds migrating back to the area and research their life cycles to understand why they migrate away in the fall and come back in the spring. What stage of their lifecycle are they in and what activities are they involved in? If you want to get high tech, check out the live bird migration maps from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can see how weather radar picks up bird migration over the course of a single day in terms of numbers of birds on the move and their direction. Compare days from different times of the year to understand where birds are on the move at different seasons.
Activity 4: Become a Citizen Scientist: There are a lot of real science projects you can be a part of to help scientists compile data on specific species. Here are a few you might enjoy:
Or check out SciStarter to search among hundreds of projects you can join.