Researchers Call for Citizen Scientists to Help Record Plant Migration

Jul 8, 2014

Researchers are leading citizen-scientists projects that will document the seasonal life events of plants in Alaska.  The researchers are looking for participants to help track climate change and flower patterns. 

Project BrownDown is a citizen scientist project that will encourage participation from the public while helping researchers look at climate change in the North.  According to University of Alaska Fairbanks spring arrivers earlier each year, summers are warmer and fall arrives later.  This has an affect on plant life; with seasons not changing on time, plants flower, fruit and die at altered times. 

University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology plant ecologist and leader of Project BrownDown Christa Mulder says the term “global warming” is misleading-- it’s not just that summers are warmer, but winter is colder in some places. 

“In interior Alaska, at least, we’ve had a 45% increase in the number of days above freezing and those are days that plants could use to keep growing.  And we also notice that in a lot of places the nonnative plants are the ones that take advantage of that and they tend to stay green much longer than other plants.”

Mulder says the program gives residence a way to see the environment around them in a way they may never have before.

“One of the biggest advantages we’ve seen is when people start paying attention to the plants on a weekly basis they notice other things too.  Maybe they’ll notice the birds that are coming and going.  They are simply more involved in what they are doing. The other thing that’s been really interested is a group that we never really thought of when we started this project was parents and kids. A lot of parents like doing this with their kids over the summer and we are hoping with the new project that focuses more on the fall we will get a lot of schools involved.”

Those interested will be trained to look for specific plant types.  Mulder says after they’ve been trained, they will select the plant species they want to track, pick five plants in a location they can visit frequently and collect information and take pictures throughout the summer.

“They would choose one plant from the native group and one plant from the nonnative group, with the exception of one category, the wintergreen or evergreen plants.  And what they would do is they would monitor them very carefully to figure out when these plants flower, and fruit and when their leaves start dropping.”

She says the citizen scientists will be required to mark their plants so they can be found again.  She says the program was designed so that everyone in all parts of Alaska can participate. 

Training for Project BrownDown will start August 9th in Fairbanks.  Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to sign up at the Project BrownDown website. 

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