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Volunteers Invited to Track Seasonal Signs of Climate Change
TUCSON, Arizona, March 4, 2009 (ENS) - Citizen scientists are being recruited to help scientists observe the effects of climate change on the behavior of plant and animal species found across the United States.

Volunteers are asked to study the seasonal cycles of plant and animals - the first leafing, first flowering, and first fruit ripening of plants, and animals reproducing, migrating and hibernating - a science known as phenology.

A consortium of government, academic and citizen scientists known as the USA-National Phenology Network, or USA-NPN, is launching the new national program built on volunteer observations of these seasonal events.

"This program is designed for people interested in participating in climate change science, not just reading about it," said Jake Weltzin, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is also executive director of USA-NPN.

Jake Weltzin, U.S. Geological Survey, and Lisa Benton, U. of Arizona graduate student, monitor growth and blooming of an Aleppo pine, a species common in the Tucson area. (Photo by T. Crimmins courtesy UA)

Supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, USA-NPN is built on partnerships among federal and state agencies, other organizations, scientists and the public.

"We encourage everyone to visit the USA National Phenology Network website and then go outside and observe the marvelous cycles of plant and animal life," he said.

The USA-NPN monitoring program will vastly increase the data available to scientists and the public alike, Weltzin said. This year, the program provides easy-to-use methods to track the life cycles of nearly 200 species of plants, and will begin monitoring animals next year.

Scientists and resource managers will use these observations to track effects of climate change on the Earth's living systems. The observations will be analyzed against satellite-generated remote sensing data and weather data, then compared with detailed ecological studies.

Data collected by USA-NPN will help resource managers predict wildfires and pollen production, detect and control invasive species, monitor droughts, and assess the vulnerability of various plant and animal species to climate change.

Today, for the first time, a site in Florida is established where citizens, students and researchers can track the seasonal effects of climate change on Florida's native plants and animals.

Located at the University of South Florida's Ecological Research Area, the site encompasses dry uplands and cypress wetlands. This range of habitats makes it ideal for analyzing the effects of hydrology, a key environmental factor in Florida.

An endangered Florida flower, the purple balduina, Balduina atropurpurea, found in bogs and moist pinelands. (Photo by Coastlander)

The site supports 12 of Florida's plant community types, including 13 plant species that live only in Florida, along with three endangered species, three threatened ones, and three that are commercially exploited.

"Because the timing of natural events is sensitive to weather and climate, they are an important living indicator of environmental change," said George Kish, a USGS scientist and coordinator of the Southeastern Regional Phenology Network.

"Scientists throughout Florida have been looking for ways like this that we can use to forecast how climate change will affect ecosystems and resources throughout Florida," Kish said.

Kish and Gordon Fox, a USF associate professor of plant ecology, worked together to establish the Florida site.

"The observations and data collected here will be valuable to resource managers working in similar ecosystems throughout the state as well as contributing to a larger view of how climate change may affect our natural resources," said Fox.

"Climate change models predict longer, more intense droughts in the southeastern United States," said Kish. "These changes could significantly affect the plant communities the rest of the ecosystem depends on."

Based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the USA-NPN includes collaborations among the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Wildlife Society.

Project BudBurst, a major partner of the USA-NPN, is launching its second season of plant phenology monitoring.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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