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Something Wild: When Plants Sprout...and What it Means

We tagged along with Diane DeLuca, a biologist with NH Audubon on her rounds of the Deering Wildlife Sanctuary. DeLuca has been working on theirPhenological Monitoring Pilot Project, and defines phenology as "the study of 'phenophases', which are the different phases that plants and animals go through in their life cycle each year." 


She's plotted points all over a map of the reserve, to examine the development of several species of plants and animals during this very busy time of year. The first stop on the tour is a cluster of small green sprigs on the side of the trail, these are blue bead lillies (pictured above). They are beginning to flower a mere 20 days after poking their initial shoots ("emergence") through the remnants of last fall's tree litter.

The datasheet she carries around with her breaks the growing cycle into three primary phenophases: leafing, flowering and fruiting, which are in turn broken into finer developmental stages. "We look at the changes that occur through the seasons," says DeLuca. "With plants, how is the timing having an impact on when they are pollinated, and are the pollinators around at the time that they're going through that stage." 

Phenophases for the same species happen at different times around the state, says DeLuca depending on snow melt and elevation, which means what you see on your walk will vary with what others see in another part of the state. Even the recent high pressure system sitting on top of New England affected the timings of some of these phases.

Though DeLuca has lived her near the reserve for nearly 25 years, this is only the third year she's been collecting phenological data for NH Audubon’s pilot program. But she says this is a long term project. The difference between the start of spring 2o12, and the start of spring 2013 are only significant when viewed against a back drop of a decade or two worth of data. She says "The idea of having a large database to look at, is to see what kind of changes are occurring in relation to climate change." It can inform resource managers how to change the way they manage resources. 

Other projects have already been collecting data for a number of years. Diane sights the ongoing monitoring of ocean temperatures. "Now they're seeing that the change in temperature of the oceans is having a major impact on when fish are spawning. And when fish spawn has a major impact on when seabirds can actually get food. 

This is part of a national initiative, organized by the National Phenology Network.

Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for close to 35 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey like Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Northern Harriers.
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