Nature’s Notebook

Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet

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How your data are being used

The plant and animal phenology observations that Nature's Notebook participants have been contributing tell some interesting stories! We invite you to read about some of our most recent discoveries from Nature's Notebook data below. Check back often; we update this page frequently!

Authors of a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution analyzed data from three sources – Henry David Thoreau’s observations recorded over 150 years ago in Massachusetts, four decades of observations collected at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and recent observations contributed by Nature’s Notebook participants across the U.S. – to demonstrate how these disparate data sources can be combined to detect changes in flowering phenology over time.  The authors found increasing variability in the timing of flowering in recent years across datasets. This suggests that plants may be reaching the limit of how much they can advance their flowering to keep up with changing climate conditions. 
The authors of this study used data from two continental-scale observation networks to explore the relationship between migratory birds and environmental cues - observations of migratory birds submitted to eBird and weather surveillance radar, which can detect large groups of migrating birds. They compared the observation data to measurements of vegetation green-up collected via satellites and the USA-NPN’s Spring Leaf Index. The Spring Leaf Index was strongly related to both the estimates of bird species richness from eBird observations and migration intensity collected via weather radar. By better understanding how birds and the habitat on which they rely are responding to climate change, managers will be more equipped to take actions to promote and conserve habitat where it is needed.
While many studies have investigated the relationship between climatic drivers and phenology of plants in temperate areas, few studies have explored these drivers in water-limited ecosystems.  Authors from the USA National Phenology Network and the University of California Santa Barbara used observations from Nature’s Notebook to examine how the phenology of two western North American oak species and two eastern and central North American oak species respond to variation in temperature, precipitation, latitude, longitude and elevation. The way that species respond to certain climatic drivers, such as winter precipitation or spring minimum temperatures, can be used to predict how these species will be impacted by climate change.
Find out what we accomplished together in 2016, what we learned from the Nature's Notebook campaigns, and what new research was published that used your data. 
A new study by researchers at the USA-National Phenology Network, US Geological Survey, University of Arizona, Schoodic Institute, Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee shows that climate change is already happening on public lands. The authors found that spring is advancing in 76% of the 276 Parks studied, and 53% of parks are experiencing extreme early springs that exceed 95% of historical conditions. Better knowledge of warming trends will help Parks to treat invasive species, operate visitor facilities, and schedule popular climate-related events, such as flower festivals and fall leaf-viewing. 
The “false spring” of 2012 was the earliest in an over 100 year record, and resulted in large-scale agricultural losses. To find out if these types of springs will become more common in the future, researchers used new climate change simulation models, including the USA-NPN’s Spring Indices, to distinguish natural climate fluctuations from longer-term trends. They found that by mid-century, we could see springs like that of 2012 as often as one out of every three years. They also found last freeze dates may not change at the same rate, resulting in more large-scale tissue damage and agricultural losses.
Buffelgrass, an invasive perennial grass that responds well to fire and outcompetes natives, threatens to transform the current Sonoran desert landscape. Managers need to treat buffelgrass with herbicides when the plant is at least 50% green. The authors of a new study in the journal Remote Sensing found that buffelgrass responds quickly to rain, with plant green up occurring twice as fast in areas with buffelgrass than areas with mostly native vegetation. This information will help managers know when to get out to spray buffelgrass. Studies such as this, which integrate on-the-ground observations of phenology with satellite data, demonstrate the power of multiple data sources to inform management activities.
While there is great potential in linking data collected by observers on the ground and data collected by remote satellites, few studies have successfully combined these two types of data. Researchers from the Appalachian Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science compared observations of leaf phenology collected through the Nature’s Notebook PopClock campaign to continental-scale satellite imagery collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS). They implemented three quality control procedures that resulted in a high correlation between the two datasets (r2 = 0.67). Being able to more easily combine citizen science and remotely-sensed data will give scientists a large amount of information over a range of geographic scales, to better understand the response of forest plants to future changes in climate.  
A group of researchers based at Yale University aimed to clarify regional long-term trends in the growing season for the U.S. by combining these ground-based observations with the oft-used satellite derived information. Over the past 30 years, the growing season has lengthened by approximately one week in the eastern U.S. and the upper Rocky Mountains, and that these changes are a direct result of warming temperatures in these regions.
Researchers from Princeton, Chapman University, and UCLA developed models of valley oak leaf-out under past and future climate scenarios to test how changing the spatial scale of these models affects leaf-out. The authors used data collected by the California Phenology Project, which began in 2010 and is part of the USA National Phenology Network, to validate their models of valley oak leaf-out before downscaling the models to create local predictions of leaf-out.

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