Project BudBurst Volunteers Across United States to Track Climate Clues in Spring Flowers


A nationwide initiative in the United States of America, Project BudBurst, started on February 15, 2008 to enable volunteers to track climate change by observing the timing of flowers and foliage.

Cinquefoil wildflowers in Colorado will be monitored by participants of Project BudBurst. Photo by Carlye Calvin UCAR

A nationwide initiative in the United States of America, Project BudBurst, started on February 15, 2008 to enable volunteers to track climate change by observing the timing of flowers and foliage.  Project BudBurst is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and a team of partners.  It engages students, gardeners and other “citizen scientists” in every state to enter their observations into an online database that will give researchers a detailed picture of our warming climate.


Last year's inaugural event drew thousands of people of all ages taking careful observations of the phenological events such as the first bud burst, first leafing, first flower, and seed or fruit dispersal of a diversity of tree and flower species, including weeds and ornamentals. The citizen science observations and records were entered into the BudBurst data base. 


As a result of the pilot field campaign, useful data was collected in a consistent way across the country so that scientists can use it to learn about the responses of individual plant species to climatic variation locally, regionally, and nationally, and to detect longer-term impacts of climate change by comparing with historical data.  Due to the enthusiastic response and robust participation in the 2007  when several thousand participants recorded the timing of the leafing and flowering of hundreds of plant species in 26 states the Web site features for Project BudBurst in 2008 have been expanded.


The project will operate year round so that early- and late-blooming species in different parts of the country can be monitored throughout their life cycles.


The Chicago Botanic Garden and University of Montana are collaborators on Project BudBurst, which was funded with a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The project is also supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Windows to the Universe, a UCAR-based Web site that will host the project online as part of its citizen science efforts.


"As we track the effects of climate change, it's important that we include information obtained by 'citizen scientists,'" said Elizabeth Blood, program director in NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure. "Project BudBurst will further our understanding of how the biosphere is changing, by bringing local knowledge into our observations."


"Climate change may be affecting our backyards and communities in ways that we don't even notice," says project coordinator Sandra Henderson of UCAR's Office of Education and Outreach. "Project BudBurst is designed to help both adults and children understand the changing relationship among climate, seasons and plants, while giving the participants the tools to communicate their observations to others."


"Project Budburst provides an exciting opportunity for the public, particularly children, to contribute to scientific research on the effects of global climate change on plants," adds Kayri Havens, a scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Each participant in Project BudBurst selects one or more plants to observe. The project Web site suggests more than 60 widely distributed trees and flowers, with information on each. Users can add their own choices.


Participants begin checking their plants at least a week prior to 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.  The science of phenology, or tracking cyclic behavior among plants and animals, has a distinguished history. In Japan and China, for example, the blossoming of cherry and peach trees is associated with ancient festivals, some of which extend back more than a thousand years. Cherry trees in Japan now bloom four days earlier than in the 1950s, according to the nation's meteorological agency.


Many species are being affected by climate change throughout the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that 20 to 30 percent of all plant and animal species that researchers study will likely be at increased risk of extinction should global temperatures rise by 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit this century.


Some plants respond to warmer temperatures by extending their growing seasons. Others shift their ranges toward the poles or to higher elevations.


At the same time, many insects breed and disperse based on regular cycles of sunlight rather than temperature. This can cause a mismatch between the behavior of pollinating insects, such as bees, and flowers that bloom earlier than the insects expect. Such asynchronous behavior has already been noted across many parts of the world.


Along with the partners noted above, Project BudBurst collaborators include the Plant Conservation Alliance; USA-National Phenology Network; and the Universities of Arizona; California, Santa Barbara; Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and Wisconsin-Madison.


Call for Participation:


Join us in collecting important climate change data on the timing of leafing and flowering in your area through Project BudBurst! This national field campaign targets native tree and flower species across the country. With your help, we will be compiling valuable environmental and climate change information around the United States.


Register Now - Become a member of the Project BudBurst community! This allows you to save your observation sites and plants that you are monitoring throughout the year and for coming years.


Subscribe to the Project BudBurst mailing list to receive updates and announcements about the new features added for 2008. Read about us in the News!


Project BudBurst:


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