Caitlin MacDonough MacKenzie
Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie
Even before she knew how to define 'phenology,' Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie was monitoring it. Every spring as a child, Caitlin watched the rhododendron bush outside her dining room window. Rhododendrons in bloom meant it was time to call her grandmother for their annual picnic trip to a nearby state park. Rhododendrons are still the harbinger of Spring for Caitlin, who especially loves watching Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) burst into flower in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and boggy areas around Acadia National Park.
Caitlin worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club's citizen science program to monitor alpine plant phenology as a master's student at University of Vermont before joining the Primack lab at Boston University to pursue her Ph.D. At BU, she is currently unearthing historical phenology data in the herbaria and archives of Acadia National Park. Her research aims to track the ecological effects of climate change on plant communities through time. Her recent field seasons in Acadia have involved sifting through field log books and herbarium specimens from the late 19th century in search of old records on the abundance and flowering times of plants on Mount Desert Island. She hopes to compare these baseline observations to the current distribution and spring flowering phenology on the island, and to compare the changes seen there to those found in similar studies with similar flora in Concord, MA.
The chance to time travel through historical writings and see the island in an earlier period has been especially rewarding. A group of Harvard boys began summering on Mount Desert Island in 1880 with the intention of surveying and cataloguing the natural history of the place. While the ornithologists and geologists drifted away from their research to meet girls, then graduated and moved on, one dedicated botanist returned for fourteen field seasons that culminated in a published Flora of the island. Reading camp log books from the 1880's provided insight into the methods of early botanists and naturalists, but Caitlin also found herself drawn into the daily dramas of these undergraduate researchers as they penned poems to each other, planned boat trips, and recounted their evenings at local hotel balls. In their century-old observations, she hopes to find the flowering phenology data that will provide a long-term look at how plants have responded to change on Mount Desert Island.