Understanding how nature responds to climate change will require monitoring key life cycle1 events-flowering, the appearance of leaves, the first frog calls of the spring - all around the world. But ecologists can't be everywhere so they're turning to non-scientists, sometimes called citizen scientists, for help.
Climate scientists are not present everywhere. Because there are so many places in the world and not enough scientists to observe all of them, they're asking for your help in observing signs of climate change across the world. The citizen scientist movement encourages ordinary people to observe a very specific research interest - birds, trees, flowers budding, etc. - and send their observations to a giant database to be observed by professional scientists. This helps a small number of scientists track a large amount of data that they would never be able to gather on their own. Much like citizen journalists helping large publications cover a hyper-local beat, citizen scientists are ready for the conditions where they live. All that's needed to become one is a few minutes each day or each week to gather data and send it in.
A group of scientists and educators launched an organization last year called the National Pheonology Network. "Phenology" is what scientists call the study of the timing of events in nature.
One of the group's first efforts relies on scientists and non-scientists alike to collect data about plant flowering and leafing every year. The program, called Project BudBurst, collects life cycle data on a variety of common plants from across the United States. People participating in the project - which is open to everyone - record their observations on the Project BudBurst website.
"People don't have to be plant experts -they just have to look around and see what's in their neighborhood," says Jennifer Schwartz, an education consultant with the project. "As we collect this data, we'll be able to make an estimate of how plants and eommunities of plants and animals will respond as the climate changes."