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from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Project Budburst

Cherry tree

An ornamental cherry, Prunus virginiana, breaking bud in early April in Wisconsin.

Gardeners tend to be keen observers. We watch for the first emerging bulbs in spring, check daily on our ripening tomatoes so we can harvest them at their peak, keep a close eye on the weather so we can protect plants if a late frost threatens. If you enjoy observing the natural world, you might enjoy contributing to Project BudBurst, a network of people across the country who monitor plants as the seasons change and submit their observations to the project’s web site.

Project Budburst is an example of a citizen science program, in which ordinary people collect data and contribute to ongoing research projects, helping scientists collect much more data over a much broader geographic area than they would be able to on their own.

Participants collect data on the timing of leaf emergence, flowering and fruiting of plants in a specific location, following guidelines that ensure consistent information collection across the country. Project Budburst volunteers help scientists learn more about plant life cycles, and the responsiveness of individual plant species to changes in climate on a local, regional and national basis. Currently being used by scientists and educators, the data is free to anyone to download.

Get Involved

As a Project BudBurst volunteer, you choose a specific plant and submit observations, such as the date the first flower opens or the first fruit ripens. Some volunteers provide a single observation; others monitor a plant throughout various stages of its life cycle. The web site offers helpful instructions to ensure accuracy, such as, “Report the date at which the first flowers are completely open. You must be able to see the stamens among the unfolded petals.”

Using the Data: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

One of the best parts about participating in Project Budburst is knowing that the information you collect is put to practical use. Data collected by Project Budburst volunteers in one project is helping researchers make recommendations about the timing of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC, for example. The festival has traditionally taken place during the first two weeks of April, but in recent years the trees have been blooming earlier in spring, so that by the time the parade that highlights the end of the festival rolls around, the cherry blossoms are past their peak bloom. This year, the parade takes place on Saturday, April 14. However, last year’s peak bloom (when 70 percent of the blossoms are open) occurred between March 24 and March 31. More than a million people from around the world visit Washington, DC, each year to enjoy the blossoming cherry trees, so it’s important that event planners have the best data available to them when they schedule future events.

If you’re inspired to put your observation skills to good use, visit the Project Budburst web site.

Other Citizen Science Projects

The Internet provides opportunities for contributing to a range of citizen science research projects. Here are a few:

Project FeederWatch. A winter-long survey of birds that visit backyard feeders, Project FeederWatch data helps scientists track the movements of winter bird populations and investigate long-term trends in bird distribution. To participate this year, act fast! The current FeederWatch season is winding down. The last day to start a two-day count is April 5, and the last day to count is April 6. Or, you can wait until fall to participate.

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the project collects long-term data on monarch larva populations and milkweed habitat. The goal is to help them better understand the factors causing variations in monarch butterfly populations.

Wildlife Sightings. The goals of this project are to educate people about the biodiversity around them, to document nature sightings that can aid conservation efforts, to contribute to citizen science and to encourage people to enjoy nature.

The Backyard Bee Count. This project began in 2008 as a way to gather information about bee populations and to provide individuals with tools to learn about what is happening with the pollinators in their yards. It now bills itself as the world’s largest citizen science project focused on pollinator conservation.

Suzanne DeJohn
Gardener’s Supply

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    March 30, 2012    

    I think this is such an important activity–being observant and tracking the changes in the natural world around us. It keep sue connected to what is most important.

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