In Season Spotter Questions, we ask you whether you see flowers a lot. Flowers are the reproductive parts of plants, and so plants put out flowers when they are most confident that the flowers – and eventual seeds – they make are going to grow into new plants. Depending on the ecosystem, this can mean waiting for the threat of frost to pass or waiting until there is enough ground water for seeds to sprout. As a result, flowering time can be very sensitive to the weather. Flowers are also showy, and so make good indicators because lots of people can see them easily.
Interestingly, flowering time does not always respond to weather patterns in the same way that leaf-out time does. So, for example, if we find that spring leaf-out time is getting earlier as average yearly temperature gets warmer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that flowering time is getting earlier at the same rate – or even getting earlier at all!
And that’s why we need you to tell us when there are flowers in the PhenoCam images.
We can’t yet detect flowers automatically. And they provide a really key piece of the puzzle in understanding how different plants and trees respond to changing weather and climate.
In particular, a lot of conservation scientists are concerned about temporal mismatch – when two species that closely interact with one another are suddenly out of sync. For example, if a particular plant starts blooming much earlier because spring temperatures are warmer, but the bee that pollinates it isn’t emerging earlier, then that plant’s flowers may go unpollinated. This could lead to reduced survival for both the plant population (by not producing seeds) and the bee population (not finding the nectar the bees need).
So far, we don’t know how much of a problem temporal mismatch is going to be. But the data you help produce through Season Spotter will allow us to start investigating how flowering times respond to weather and climate across many different types of plants in many different ecosystems.