In some regions of the United States it felt more like April or May during the month of February (and now March). Yay! Flip flops and shorts! What could be so bad about that? For some plants and animals an early spring (or really a pattern of earlier springs due to climate change) can cause ecological mismatches. Flowers may bloom before the arrival of pollinators. Certain insects that are a key part of the diet of a migrating bird species might emerge before the arrival of those migrating birds. Different species follow different environmental queues and in a changing climate different species adapt at a different pace. So those seasonal phenomena (migration, breeding, etc…) can be out of whack due to a shift in temperature.
The study of those seasonal phenomena within the context of climate is called phenology. The USA National Phenology Network or NPN (under the United States Geological Survey) focuses entirely on this subject through monitoring and research via scientists and citizen scientists around the country. You can become an NPN citizen scientist by joining Natures Notebook. Sign up and begin recording your observations today and your data will be used by scientists and land managers to better understand and manage for the biological implications of climate change. Sit in your backyard with a notebook and a pencil, an easy way to contribute to science.
About the Illustration: Lilacs and Swallowtails-acrylic paint and rice paper. The lilac is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Recently the NPN created maps of the United States that illustrate the arrival of spring across the country based on temperature data from NOAA and extended spring indices-observations of the leafing out and blooming of lilacs and honeysuckles across the country are used as an indicator of leafing out of other plant species. Why lilacs and honeysuckles? Because they are both common flowering plants found across the country.
Young sunflowers follow the sun and turn from east to west during the course of the day. During the night they reorient themselves to the east to begin the cycle once again. When sunflowers stop growing they permanently orient themselves to the east and wait for pollinators to visit. This phenomenon is called heliotropism and other plants display this type of “sun worshipping” behavior. The underlying mechanism behind sunflower heliotropism was unknown until researchers from the University of California (Davis) published their results on sunflower heliotropism in the journal Science. According to their findings, young sunflowers regulate growth of their stems based on an internal circadian rhythm through phased gene expression that increase cell growth in stems facing the west during the night. This allows them to bend east at sunrise. During the day, stem growth on the east side increases to allow the young plant to bend westward in the afternoon and sunset. Mature plants remain eastward oriented when growth slows to attract more pollinators. An eastward orientation increases the warmth of the plant which increases pollinator attraction.
About this Illustration: Watercolor and micron pen of a sun in motion over a field of sunflowers. You can now purchase merchandise with this illustration on it via RedBubble.