A lot of hikers and backpackers spend tons of time in nature on purpose, getting close to plants and animals in ways lab-bound scientists sometimes can't. But what can an armchair Darwin ever do with his or her notebook full of flora and fauna notes, besides keep them on a shelf?
The USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) just might be able to put your amateur biological observations to good use.
The Tuscon, Arizona-based group of scientists and citizens, who seek to "monitor and understand the influence of seasonal cycles on the Nation’s biological resources," wants you to help them track the migratory patterns of animals and the general life cycles of plants and other basic ecosystem observations, and then log your data and findings on their website. The USA-NPN partners with many levels of educational and federal bodies to produce sound scientific data.
The USA-NPN wants to know simple things about plants: flowering, growth habits, and any other general ecosystem-related issues you might notice.
Their 2009 monitoring system, which encourages any willing volunteer, citizen scientist, or field researcher, to participate, has four simple steps:
1) Register yourself by providing an e-mail address and name.
2) Identify your home location, and tell them where your observations will take place and what kind of plants you would like to monitor from an included list.
3) Learn a bit about your chosen plant's phenophases (life cycles).
4) Get out there and start observing. You can login to your account and report and upload data whenever you please over the next year.
The hope of the USA-NPN participatory project is to track the effects the global climate change has on plants, which could then help to "predict wildfires, droughts, and pollen production," according to the chair of the USA-NPN board of directors, Mark D. Schwartz, in a recent Los Angeles Times article.
Okay, aspiring biologists—you've got your marching orders. Now get out into nature and observe!
Help Scientists Tracks Plant and Animal Cycles (Los Angeles Times)
Do you have a hankering to get outdoors in the name of science? Check out these research trips in
Colorado Lynx Country and helping out with the Forest Service’s Passport in Time archaeological preservation program