For Everything There Was A Season: Phenology Shifts in the Tetons

Around the world, phenology — or the timing of ecological events — is shifting as the climate warms. This can lead to a variety of consequences for individual species and for ecological communities as a whole, most notably through asynchronies that can develop between plants and animals that depend upon each other. Within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Grand Teton National Park, there is as yet little understanding of how climate change is affecting plant and animal phenology.

Researchers Trevor Bloom and Corinna Riginos are building on the observations of local biologist and writer, Dr. Frank Craighead Jr., to answer these questions. In the 1970’s, Craighead intimately studied the timing of natural events outside his home in Moose, WY, and used his observations to write the amazing book For Everything There is a Season: The Sequence of Natural Events in the Grand Teton-Yellowstone Region.

Nearly fifty years later, Bloom and Riginos are following in Craighead’s footsteps. Warm spring temperatures have shifted the flowering and fruiting of many plants up to a month earlier than in the 1970’s. However, the seasonal behavior of many animals (based on day-length rather than climatic cues) has remained the same. This can cause tremendous mismatches in ecological timing. How will bears react when berries peak in the summer, rather than in the fall, when they need them as a food source before entering hibernation? How will hummingbirds feed nectar to their young when the flowers bloom weeks too early? This project seeks to investigate these questions in order to help managers plan conservation efforts.

Bloom and Riginos are also working with local community members, volunteers, schools, and other conservation organizations to engage citizen scientists directly in this work. There is no better way to make climate change and its effects real to people than to give them opportunities to see for themselves the changes that are occurring in our ecosystem. If you are interested in learning more, or you’d like to volunteer, please email trevor@nrccooperative.org.