What do humans have in common with a hand-held camera? Or a camera mounted on a satellite into space? Hhuman eyes and cameras can capture the timing of when plants grow buds, leaf out, flower, fruit and die back, the science known as plant phenology.
But why do we need fancy cameras for us to study phenology if we can see it with our own eyes. Let's first talk about why we study phenology. You see scientists have used their eyes to record when plants bud, leaf out, flower and fruit for centuries. These annual plant life cycle events, known as phenophases, are often triggered by seasonal changes in rainfall, temperature and day length. Their timing is important to study because it's impacted by changes climate, and impacts on phenophase timing by climate can impact humans, plants and animals too. For example scientists observed that some plants are leafing out earlier in recent years. This means that fruit trees and crops that we depend upon for food might begin to flower earlier in the season, leaving them at risk for damage during spring frosts. Birds that depend upon those flowers and fruits are also impacted, when they can't find those mid-migration snack they flew so far to eat.
The importance of phenology is why NEON scientists (The National Ecological Observatory Network) and Citizen Scientists involved with Projects Budburst Nature's Notebook are recording phenophase dates and locations across the country. With lots of data collected by lots of people, we can track changes in timing of specific phenophases for a plant each year. However, our eyes can only observe so many plants. How do we track the timing of phenophase events across a state, a country, or even the globe?