Pepperwood Phenology Project Data Included in 5th National Climate Assessment

Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycles and behavioral timing, such as when plants are leafing out or in flower, or when birds migrate through a region. With climate change the phenology of many species has already been observed changing, which may lead to consequences – such as agricultural plants leafing out early in response to warmer winter temperatures but then being killed off by freeze events leading to reductions in crop production. Phenology is such an important aspect of our wild and human communities that the 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA5) has included it in their report.

According to Chris Avery, the National Climate Assessment Chief of Staff, the NCA5 is a “scientific report on the state of the science: what we know about climate change and climate change impacts in the United States.” There are many scientists from various disciplines that come together to determine what we know and what we don’t know about our climate. The data that supports this report comes from across the United States from numerous monitoring sites, including Pepperwood! In fact, Pepperwood’s Phenology Project data was used in the NCA5, and is represented in one of those little gray dots in the map below.

The Pepperwood Phenology Project is conducted by trained community scientists who visit sample locations 1-2 times per week at the reserve to record the status of individual plants – whether they are in bloom, fruiting, etc. and how cycles change from year to year. We have monitored up to 13 species of woody shrubs and trees on trails near the Dwight Center for Conservation Science. This project is one of our longest running community science projects, started in 2013 by a Santa Rosa Junior College student and Pepperwood Steward, Prahlada Papper, who was participating in the Stephen J. Barnhart Internship program. Through his hard work, Pepperwood became one of the first nine sentinel sites in the State to join the California Phenology Project, a member of the National Phenology Network.

Since the project began, our dedicated community scientists have collected over 138,000 records of plant phenology at Pepperwood (as of December 2023). Data from this project is available to the public via Nature’s Notebook and the latest publications using National Phenology Network data can be found here. NCA5 can be found here. This is just one example of how our long-term monitoring data collected in partnership with our community can make a national, and even global, impact. We are forever grateful for all the phenology project participants’ contributions over the past decade.

Figure showing long term monitoring locations throughout the US from chapter 8 of the 5th National Climate Assessment report. Monitoring programs are critically important for observing and projecting trends.

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