Phenology Week

This week on Team Shrub we are focusing entirely on one aspect of change in the tundra: phenology.


What is phenology?

Phenology (or “fun-ology” as my wife calls it) is, to put it simply, when things happen. It is the timing of life events.

As a PhD student, gazing out of the office window instead of writing up my thesis, phenology is what keeps the view interesting – when the leaves appear in spring, when the birds hatch, when the berries appear on my walk home, and when the trees turn auburn to mark the end of the year.

As a tundra ecologist, phenology offers a way to track the huge changes we are seeing as the Arctic warms. We track when things happen in our study ecosystems – when the snow melts, the leaf buds burst, the flowers appear, and the leaves begin to turn.


Why phenology?

Monitoring the timing of life gives us a great deal of information that can shed light on how the tundra is changing, how fast, and what it might look like in the future.

For example, we can use phenology to see whether we are seeing an earlier spring, or longer growing seasons for tundra plants.

We can look at if plants can keep up with earlier snowmelt – and if the birds and the bees can keep up with the plants.

We can look at winners and losers: if some species respond to changes while others don’t, and if that tells us anything about community change in the tundra.

And we can look a little deeper still at whether phenology is somehow ingrained, tied to the genetics of an individual or a species, or whether it can respond to the rapid environmental changes going on in the Arctic.

What’s in store this week?

This week we have five posts focusing on the different ways we measure and monitor phenology at our field sites.

So settle in, reach for the popcorn, and get ready for a wild, wild week of science.


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