On this page, we will provide an overview of the science behind Project BudBurst. You can learn more about each topic to further your understanding about the important relationship between plants and climate. Of course, one of the best ways to learn is to participate. After you read about the science that Project BudBurst is based on, we encourage you to start making observations and enhance your learning through hands-on experience!

What is Phenology?

Photo: Kirsten Meymaris

You may have figured out that Project BudBurst is a plant phenology program. But you may not know what phenology means. Let's dig in and learn more about this area of scientific study. Phenology is literally "the science of appearance." It is the study of the timing of the biological events in plants and animals such as flowering, leafing, hibernation, reproduction, and migration. Scientists who study phenology are interested in the timing of such biological events in relation to changes in season and climate. Learn more about phenology and Project BudBurst.

Plant Phenology and Climate Change

Image: Project BudBurst

We know that plants can tell a story about climate change. Changes in the timing of phases of the plant life cycle, known as phenophases, are directly affected by temperature, rainfall, and day length. While these environmental factors change throughout the year in places where there are distinct seasons, the first two, temperature and rainfall – are also changing in many regions because of changing climates. Scientists have found that the timing of phenological events of many plant species has changed recently as a result of changing temperatures and rainfall patterns. Learn more about what these changes mean and how Project BudBurst participants can help.

Why is Phenology Important?

Pine Warbler
Photo: USFWS

By now, you are probably realizing we think phenology is important. How plants react to seasonal change has a big impact on the natural environment. Because plants are at the base of the food chain, anything that affects plants can impact other parts of the ecosystem. Phenology is important because it affects whether plants and animals thrive or survive in their environments. It is important because our food supply depends on the timing of phenological events. And, to scientists, changes in the timing of phenological events can be used an as indicator of changing climates. Learn more about how Project BudBurst can contribute to this important scientific research.

History of Phenology

Carl Linnaeus, Image: Wikipedia

If you are just now learning about phenology because of Project BudBurst, you might think this is a new area of scientific study. In fact, it is one of the oldest areas of environmental science, dating back thousands of years. Observations of phenological events have provided indications of the progress of the natural calendar – when seasons begin and change – since pre-agricultural times. The Chinese are thought to have kept the first written records dating back to around 974 B.C. For the past 1200 years, phenological observations of the timing of peak cherry blossoms in Japan have been recorded. Read more about this history and how you can be part of it through Project BudBurst.




Phenology Today

David Inouye
Photo: David Inouye

With so much attention given to environmental and climate change, phenology is enjoying increasing interest from both professional scientists and citizen scientists. Project BudBurst is one of the programs affiliated with the USA National Phenology Network. Nature's Calendar in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have active web sites and events. Canada has PlantWatch, and many other countries, including China and Australia, have phenological programs. Be part of the growing of interest in plant phenology in the United States by joining Project BudBurst.