Gardeners can be citizen scientists with Project Budburst

Last Updated: 
April 25, 2008

CORVALLIS, Ore. - By noticing and recording when plants bud, flower and leaf out, volunteers can help scientists track climate change as part of a nationally organized online effort called "Project BudBurst."

Gail Langellotto, urban and community horticulturist at Oregon State University, is encouraging all interested home gardeners and nature lovers in Oregon to learn about and take part in this national effort.

"Project BudBurst," has the capacity to collect information on bloom time from thousands of people all over the country. The effort is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and a team of partners including the U.S. Geological Survey's USA National Phenology Network.

Each participant chooses one or more plants to observe, and then they begin checking their plants at least a week before the average date of budburst – the point when the buds have opened and leaves are visible. After budburst, participants continue to observe the tree or flower for later events, such as the first leaf, first flower and, eventually, seed dispersal.

When participants submit their records online, they can view maps of these phenological events across the United States.

Phenology is the study of the timing of events in plant and animal life cycles and how they are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in the environment. Examples of phenological events include the timing of leafing and flowering, agricultural crop stages, insect emergence and animal migration.

By entering their observations into an online database over time, participants will give researchers a more detailed picture of global climate change, explained Langellotto, who oversees OSU Extension's Master Gardener Program. The project operates year-round so that early- and late-blooming species in different parts of the country can be monitored throughout their life cycles.

"Researchers and scientific progress are often hindered by the logistical difficulties associated with collecting data across a wide range of sites," said Langellotto. "By working with citizen scientists, including observant home gardeners, researchers can extend their capacity to better study and understand a variety of natural phenomena over wide areas.

"Master Gardeners are predisposed to be perfect collaborators for Project BudBurst researchers," Langellotto added. "They are knowledgeable about the identification and bloom time of the plants in their area each year. They are keen observers and are generally interested in better understanding the world around them. I believe that this type of collaborative relationship is a win-win for both the Master Gardeners and the researchers that they can help."

In the long-term, with enough data, "citizen science" based information such as Project BudBurst may help scientists understand, mitigate and adapt to ongoing and future climate change.

To learn more about this effort, visit the Project BudBurst website.

Also online, the OSU Department of Horticulture has posted past phenology reports for Oregon.

Author: Carol Savonen