Archive for the ‘trees’ tag
Follow a tree through its journey into spring! Citizen scientists can record budbursting, leafing and flowering with Track a Tree as seasons shift in the United Kingdom.
by Nina Friedman
As Citizen Science projects proliferate, so do the curious communities they create. Relationships begin between excited, everyday people as they explore their surroundings for the sake of science. But there is one United Kingdom based project that inspires the inception of a particularly odd relationship…
Track a Tree asks volunteers to visit their local woodlands, select a tree, and record seasonal events as they take place in the immediate ecosystem of the tree. Through recurring visits and focused observation volunteers become familiarized with the tree’s particularities. Maybe it’s the final Sycamore in the area to leaf. You, a volunteer, root for it to catch up with its peers, literally the parent of a late bloomer. You invest yourself in seasonal transitions, gaining insight into the life of the tree, surrounding flowers, and sometimes surrounding animals.
You become a scientist of phenology, the study of the seasonal-ecosystem interaction. Phenology observes timing variations seasonal events, and the resulting affect on plant and animal life. Recent rapid shifts in the earth’s climate make phenology evermore interesting and important. Tree’s that thrive in an April-June springtime may lose health if temperatures unexpectedly rise in March, triggering early blooming. When the Forestry Commission has access to ecological data, they can make informed decisions when harvesting and planting trees. When you have access to ecological data, you can learn about the nature that surrounds you. You can also create and play with interactive infographics.
Christine Tansey, the founder of Track a Tree, relayed the project’s impressive growth. “We expected a smaller, more dedicated group of participants because it requires a bit more commitment than other citizen science projects,” she says. Most ecological projects do not require multiple visits to the same location. Volunteers prove to be excited about the committing task. Since its launch in 2014, submissions include 2,000 observations spanning over 200 woodlands. Participants include school age students, families and individuals. Couples are also among the ranks. Tree tracking happens to be a great bonding activity, with the benefit of being lower commitment and lower cost than cat adoption and child rearing.
Steve Hallam (part-time tree tracker and full-time father) finds free moments to volunteer for several conservation projects in the UK. When life’s unexpected challenges arise, Steve finds routine and peace in data collection. “Gathering data on my trees forces me to stay quietly in one place for a few minutes- and it’s amazing what wildlife can make itself visible whilst this occurs,” he says. Local Nuthatches regularly make appearances while he scribbles the status of his Silver Birch.
One citizen scientist, a self-proclaimed “wayward botanist”, shares the tree tracking experience through sound. With every outing comes an audio upload.
Christine loves the unique way each volunteer approaches his or her experience. “They’re all following the outline of the project, but they’re able to individualize it and explore their own interests at the same time”. Christine aims to “give all [volunteers] the chance to hone their observation skills”. This goal is mutually beneficial. Years into her ecology research, she still notices new aspects of nature every time she goes into the field, attributing this to the volunteers fresh perspectives.
Ultimately, Track a Tree would like not only to collect data, but to educate citizen scientists. If UK woodlands are inaccessible to you visit the Track a Tree resource page to learn about tree identification. Or visit SciStarter’s Project Finder and use the “location” function to explore ecology underneath your local canopies!
Citizen scientists collect data to find out how climate change impacts redwoods
by Kristin Butler
“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
Anyone who’s ever been in a redwood forest knows the sacred experience Steinbeck described in his famous book. Even my dog Kia, on her first hike along the hooded trails of Sanborn Park near our home, bowed uncertainly at the hush of that forest’s redwoods and gazed with wonder at its canopied sky. While photos may fail to replicate the stature of these magnificent trees, they can help conservationists protect them.
Five years ago, a nonprofit in San Francisco called Save the Redwoods League (which buys, protects, and restores redwood habitat) started a citizen science projected called Redwood Watch. Volunteers in the project take photos of redwoods using an app called iNaturalist and the data they collect is helping conservationists better understand redwood distribution and take strategic measures to protect these iconic trees.
“You’d think we’d know where every redwood tree is, but we don’t,” said Deborah Zierten, Education and Interpretation Manager for the Save the Redwoods League. “This projects helps us refine our maps.” The Save the Redwoods League, which is heading into its centennial anniversary soon, will use the data from Redwood Watch to create restoration plans for the organization’s next 100 years, Zierten said.
In particular, the organization is interested in understanding how climate change may be impacting redwoods and their ecosystems and how to help the trees adapt and survive, she said. In California, Redwoods grow within a narrow 450-mile strip that hugs the coast from Big Sur to just over the Oregon border. In the winter months, the trees rely on rainfall and in summer they get the water they need by absorbing coastal fog through their needles and roots, Zierten said. This could make them vulnerable to drought and temperature changes.
Interestingly, redwoods are one of the best protections the planet has against climate change.
Old growth redwoods (trees that are over 200 years old and that survived the gold rush of logging) can take in three to five times more carbon from the atmosphere than any other force on the planet, Zierten said, making them one of the best carbon sinks. Their high branches are so dense, intertwined, and coated with decomposing needles that new trees actually take root and grow on them high above the ground. Of the original coastal redwood range, only about 5% of the old growth forest is left. In addition, 26% of redwood timberland habitat (forests that have been logged and replanted) has been lost to roads and other development.
“One of our goals is to make sure the remaining forests remain protected,” she said, against development, fire, invasive species, and other threats. The Save the Redwoods League encourages volunteers to not only photograph redwoods, but to also photograph the plants and animals that rely on old growth and newer timberland redwood forest ecosystems. These include threatened species such as the Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet; Black Bears and Pacific Salmon; the Pacific Fisher; the Marten; and plants like Huckleberry and many types of lichen.
Volunteers have already collected more than 2,000 observations and the organization plans to continue the project well into the future to preserve these awesome, silent “ambassadors from another time.”
Kristin Butler is a Bay Area journalist and Outreach and Communications Director for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.