Friday, August 7, 2009

PS 80-53: Urban Tree Phenology: Teaching and learning ecology through public participation and research

Kirsten K. Meymaris1, Karl Clarke1, Dudley Hartel2, Paul Alaback3, Kay Havens4, Jennifer Schwarz Ballard4, and Sandra Henderson1. (1) University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, (2) U.S. Forest Service, (3) University of Montana, (4) Chicago Botanic Garden


Urban Tree Phenology is a special project of Project BudBurst (, and the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station (, designed to engage the public in observations of the phenological (plant life cycle) events of trees in our nations’ urban areas in order to raise awareness of climate change and urban heart island research.  The goals of Urban Tree Phenology and Project BudBurst are to 1) increase awareness of phenology as an area of scientific study; 2) increase awareness of the impacts of changing climates on plants; and 3) increase science literacy by engaging participants in the scientific process.

Urban tree phenology data is not currently being collected at a scale (i.e. temporal or spatial) that can support research or management of our nations’ urban forests.  Can focused citizen science programs such as Project BudBurst and Urban Tree Phenology provide the opportunity for students and interested laypersons to actively participate in scientific research?  Can the collected data provide insight into the state of our nations’ ecosystem?  Participants were asked to observe and record the timing of phenological events of wild and cultivated plant species found across the continent.  


Programs such as Project BudBurst and Urban Tree Phenology are important not only from an educational perspective, but because they also enable scientists to broaden the geographic and temporal scale of their observations. Review of the data submitted by participants suggests that extensive, Internet based citizen science programs are effective in education and outreach endeavors. During the first two years of Project BudBurst, over 3000 citizen scientists from across the country participated and resulting in almost 5000 observations, providing useful baseline data that will further our understanding of the impact of changing climate on a variety of plant species.  

Programs such as Project BudBurst and Urban Tree Phenology continue to demonstrate the interest from the public in providing scientists valuable environmental information that would otherwise not be collected. As more data is collected and recorded, ecologists and climate scientists will be able to use this information to build a more sustainable society.