An Appalachian Laboratory project that engages citizen scientists to record observations of trees has been recognized by the White House for their efforts in collaborating with the public on climate change research. Volunteers are tracking when the leaves come out on the trees in the spring and when they begin to turn colors in the fall to help understand how climate change is affecting two poplar tree species.
In coordination with the USA National Phenology Network, the research team has been engaging citizens to help monitor seasonal changes in poplar and aspen growth through a program called PopClock. U.S. and Canadian volunteers are asked to collect ground-based observations of spring leaf emergence and fall color change.
This will further the understanding of how climate change is affecting two poplar tree species, the balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) and the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). It is feared that the climate is warming too rapidly for the trees to adapt to these changes, and citizen volunteers are essential in monitoring the health of these tree species.
The collaboration is a part of a National Science Foundation grant to study climate adaptation in forest trees and predict the areas where trees are most and least adapted to changing climates in the future. Led by Drs. Stephen Keller, Andrew Elmore, Matthew Fitzpatrick, David Nelson, and Cathlyn Stylinski, it combines genomics, remote sensing, plant physiology, and spatial modeling to create a comprehensive understanding of where these trees will face the most significant risks and provide insight on health and growth. This will allow scientists to prioritize areas most in need of conservation.
The PopClock effort was recently highlighted by the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which introduced its first Open Government Awards to recognize efforts by 64 member-nations, including the United States, utilizing citizen participation to improve government policies and to better serve their nations.