With spring approaching, Arnold Arboretum visitors can look forward to plants breaking dormancy to produce buds, flowers, leaves, and fruit during the growing season. Scientists can investigate the timing of life cycle events (phenology) to gain a better understanding of how climate change is affecting plants and ecosystems. Analysis of this kind requires gathering observations of individual plants over long periods of time to identify trends and to make future predictions. At the Arboretum, the Wolkovich Lab begins a second year of engaging citizen scientists—the Tree Spotters—in exploring and documenting plant phenology in the Arboretum’s living collections.
Comprising an enthusiastic group of volunteers, Tree Spotters receive training from leaders Elizabeth Wolkovich, PhD (Assistant Professor, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology), Jehane Samaha (Research Technician in the Wolkovich Lab and Tree Spotters Project Manager), Ailene Ettinger (Postdoctoral Fellow in the Wolkovich Lab), Danny Schissler (Hunnewell and Wolkovich Lab Intern), and Suzanne Mrozak (Volunteer Coordinator). From late February through November, monthly gatherings in the Arboretum and ongoing training sessions help guide volunteers in making and recording their observations. The group focuses on 11 species and 55 individual trees at the Arboretum, logging observations into a National Phenology Network database that is accessible to scientists all over the world. Last year, Arboretum Tree Spotters logged an impressive total of 12,432 observations on their 55 selected trees.
In addition to the value this data holds for ongoing research at the Arboretum and elsewhere, the Tree Spotters program demonstrates the power of citizen science and community engagement at public gardens and institutions of learning. Designed to empower non-scientists and encourage everyone to become more aware of our natural environment, the program is open to all. Find out more at one of the training sessions scheduled for new volunteers, and participate in this unique and community-driven science project.