|Snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii|
So starts “Mild weather redefines winter landscape,” an article by Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears published in the December 30, 2011 issue of the Washington Post. They quote Scott Aker, head horticulturist at the National Arboretum, as saying, “It’s a weird kind of fall blending right into spring.” Chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch Deke Arndt (what is “Deke” short for?) points out that what started out as a mild autumn has “become ‘dramatically’ warmer” across the whole northern tier of the U.S. “Just 19.6 percent of the continental United States is covered with snow, according to the latest snow analysis by NOAA, compared with 50.3 percent this time last year,” Eilperin and Fears report.
|My apricot is blooming, too|
What does it all mean? No one really knows. Cutting through all the hyperbole, yes, the climate’s changing. But that’s nothing new.
For gardeners, however, the current climate ruckus is an opportunity. As people engaged with nature, we watch the subtle changes our plants undergo through the seasons, making mental notes as to whether something came up earlier or later than last year, or bloomed for a longer or shorter time, or hung on to its leaves into January instead of dropping them in December. Some of us write these things down in grubby little notebooks we carry with us wherever we go. The formal name for this activity is phenological observation. Since we all do it, we might as well forward our findings to someone who cares. The Internet makes it easy for all us dirt-monkeys to reinvent ourselves as scientists.
This is a Really Big Deal for liberal-arts types (like me) who thought science far beyond their (my) ken.
To reiterate (see “For the Birds,” Feb. 2), phenology is the study of phenophases, life-cycle events like emergence, first leaf, first flower, seed set, etc. (Animals have phenophases too—diet, foraging habits and ranges, timing and sizes of litters, migrations, denning and nesting habits, and such; but I’m more interested in plants. They stay put, which makes observing easier.) Phenologic information helps in tracking global climate-change trends as well as the monitoring of drought and wildfire risks and the health of ecosystems, and identifying and mapping invasive species, infectious diseases and pests. The task is enormous, especially given recent budget-slashing at universities and labs, but all of us can help by kicking in our two cents.
Have I piqued any interest in all you history, English, poli-sci, psychology, economics and philosophy majors who grew up to make gardens? You—yes, YOU—can add vital information to databases focused on understanding climatological and demographic changes in the natural world, all without ever leaving your yard. By taking part, you could become a bona fide scientist.
Following are three scientific endeavors to which I add my bit.
|(The house finch is on the left)|
|My maypop (Passiflora incarnata) in September|
|Sneaky Passiflora fruits in November|
If I can do it, you can do it.
|The Fitzgerald sunflower patch in July|
|Sweat bees (Halictus poeyi) on sunflower|
(picture by Pam Phillips, from her blog
"Writing Every Day")
Birds, bees and phenophases only hint at the variety of citizen science projects out there hungry for your input. Just google “citizen science projects”: there’s bound to be one that tickles your fancy. Then you can amaze all your liberal-arts friends by casually mentioning your new status as a scientist.
Fungus gnat update: male fungus gnats’ posterior sections are rounded, not pointy-for-ease-of-ovipositing like the female pictured in last week’s post (“Thanatos and Fungus Gnats,” Dec. 31, 2011). I noticed the difference while brushing my teeth in the company of a selection of the curious creatures, and thought perhaps you’d like to know. Once you become a scientist, you’ll find you just can’t stop.
Thanks for dropping by.