Facebook for Nature

Can a status update from a tulip tell us anything about climate change?

The science of seasonal observation has always mattered, but never has it been so urgent. Each year, our seasons unfold. Perhaps they feel the same to us each time, or maybe we notice the slight differences. A lack of rain in the west, and a barrage of snow in the east. Flowers are blooming earlier, fruit is ripening sooner. OK, so what’s the big deal with some slightly confused flora? Well, that confusion ripples outward, and that matters because of how beholden all living things are to other living things. The timing of our ecosystem, complicated as it is in the most ideal of times, is off-kilter.

The California Phenology Project, a collaboration between UC Santa Barbara, the National Park Service, and The National Phenology Network endeavors to document plant ranges, flowering dates, and other relevant data to assess climate change responses throughout the state of California. In the UC Natural Reserve System there are 3,300 plant species. The list reads like a poem of plants you may have never heard of: Awned Fescue, Ripgut Grass, Winecup Clarkia. The idea is that when these plants bloom within the season (and how that differs year to year) is actually a clue, indicative of the world they are blossoming into.

The phenological observations of scientists and citizens alike will all contribute to the Pheonology Project’s online resource, Nature’s Notebook, a kind of Facebook for Nature (I would totally friend request the California Poppy, golden and archetypal as it is, and Winecup Clarkia too, in all its hot pink, magenta splendor). But unlike the existential quandaries posed by the ubiquitous social media site, this online notebook will begin to reveal some of the patterns of our natural world and what that might mean for us. Since the task at hand is too large for just the professional scientists, now is the chance for people to reconnect with their environment and become contributors to this project, citizen-scientists observing and noting the plant species in Golden Gate Park or in their own backyard. We are all capable of phenological observation. The California Poppy accepts your friendship request! What will you do now?

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3 thoughts on “Facebook for Nature”

  1. Firstly, the idea of using these types of plants to evaluate the state of the worlds climate change is a phenomenal idea, as it’s non intrusive and allows for the use of the public in helping to record all the data needed. The idea of the publicly accessible database is where the real magic lies however, because it is a way of being able to gather large amounts of data on the plants over a wide area, in relatively short windows. The fact that the “Facebook for Nature” is based on observations allows the public to be able to contribute so easily and in such a hands on way, not only meaning that they become a part of the process of data gathering, but they also then become aware of how it all works. One slight shortcoming of this principal is that if anyone is able to post their observations, you could end up with some misinformed posts, skewing the otherwise perfect information. This could probably be overlooked though, because with the inclusion of the public domain, there would be so many observations that any incorrect observations won’t affect the results and conclusion. This therefore is a great and sustainable method of being able to track the climate change in our world by simple and therefore cheap means.

  2. I think that it is great that we can all be able to use our observations with these plants to know more about how our climate changes from time to time, even without the requirement of expensive material to do so. It is great for the economy and it makes life much more easier. But disadvantage is that we don’t all look at things the same way, or from the same perspective, with our different cultures and beliefs taken into consideration, people might end up posting many different and contrasting ideas based on the same observations.

  3. Off course this is a superb idea in order to keep track of the different types plants.It is not only economical, but it is also a faster way of gathering data from all over the world. Another advantage is that all kinds of people from teenagers to adults to elderly people from different races will become more involved in our environment. As a suggestion, the Facebook page should allow participants to upload a picture of the plant together with the observation of the individual. This will increase the accuracy of the data as different people might see the same thing in different ways.

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