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Help scientists track plant and animal cycles

March 3, 2009 | 12:12 pm

As if Californians need another reason to hit the outdoors.

The USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) -- a University of Arizona, Tucson-based group of scientists and citizens that monitors the seasonal cycles of plants and animals -- is calling for volunteers to help track the effect of climate change on the environment.

The group is launching a national program encouraging citizen volunteers to observe seasonal changes among plants and animals, like flowering, migration and egg-laying. They can then log in and record their observations online at the USA-NPN website.

"The program is designed for people interested in participating in climate change science, not just reading about it," said Jake Weltzin, executive director of the USA-NPN and a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

Phenology is the study of the climate's influence on animal and plant life cycles. Climate change can affect these cyclical patterns and put certain species of plants and animals in danger.

Having a large volunteer base to help track these changes enables researchers to predict the effects of global climate change on plants, animals and ecosystems, said Mark D. Schwartz, chair of the USA-NPN board of directors. The data can be used to predict wildfires, droughts and pollen production.

Go here for a podcast on this effort to recruit volunteers.

-- Catherine Ho

Photo: The Arizona saguaro cactus will be one of the species examined by volunteers helping to track the effect of climate change on plant and animal cycles. Credit: Bob Szaro / U.S. Geological Survey

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