USA National Phenology Network — Partner to Advance Science Decisions

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Phenology – the timing of life cycle events in plants and animals and their relationship to climate - is a key component of life on earth. This video introduces the USA National Phenology Network ( - a USGS funded, national network that exists to collect, store, and share information about phenology. Scientists, managers, and decision-makers can work with the USA-NPN to access existing phenology data, advance scientific understanding, and inform resource management and decision-making. For more information, contact

This video follows researchers and managers who exemplify the different ways to partner with USA-NPN. First we meet Catherine Chamberlain, PhD Candidate at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, who studies plant phenology. She uses data collected through USA-NPN’s Nature’s Notebook ( and freely accessible through the National Phenology Database ( to better understand the impact of early springs and frost damage on trees. Some of the data is collected right at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University by volunteers called the Tree Spotters. Next we meet Mike Dietz, Associate Professor at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. Mike’s Ecological Forecasting lab uses data collected on the ground by Nature’s Notebook volunteers and others to create and validate ecological predictions ( Finally we meet Ben Wilder, Director of the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona. Ben uses the USA-NPN’s Buffelgrass Pheno Forecast ( to know when to treat invasive buffelgrass on Tumamoc Hill. This video was created by Landmark Stories of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona.

This video was recorded in Boston Massachusetts on May 2-3rd, 2019 and in Tucson, Arizona on August 23rd and September 4th. Additional footage provided by PhenoCam and Duke Forest (2017) and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (2017)


Date Taken:

Length: 00:07:10

Location Taken: Tucson, AZ, US

Video Credits

Producer and Cinematographer: Cody Sheehy, Landmark Stories, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona

Sound: Galen McCaw, Landmark Stories, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona

Editor: John Casamasa, Landmark Stories, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona

Production Managers: Matt Rahr and Dave Bogner, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona

Video of earth from space courtesy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (2017)

Video of Pheno Cam footage from Duke Forest courtesy of Bijan Seyednasrollah (2017)

Special thanks to: Catherine Wheeler, Suzanne Mrozak, and the other Tree Spotters at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University , Mike Dietz, Katherine Wheeler, John Foster and the other members of the Ecological Forecasting Lab at Boston University, Ben Wilder and the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, University of Arizona


SPEAKER 1: There's so many questions that need to be answered. There's more natural disasters. There are more extreme droughts. There's more extreme weather events. There's an urgency within the climate community and in climate scientists. 

THERESA CRIMMINS: The USA National Phenology Network is a science and monitoring initiative that's national scale. We exist to collect, store, and share data and information about phenology. Phenology is all about when things happen. It pertains to the timing of events that occur seasonally in plants and animals. 


SPEAKER 1: I'm interested in how climate change is impacting our forests. With climate change, we're seeing warmer winters. We're seeing warmer springs, and we're getting this earlier bud burst in the spring. And so these leaves are coming out, and oftentimes they're at a time when these late spring freezing events can still be really damaging. So by watching changes in bud burst, we can observe how the climate is changing over time. So it's a great tracker or proxy for climate change. 

This is frost damage. This is pretty standard look of what freezing damage looks like. It smells like it was hit by a frost, and what probably-- ideally I want to get data from tons of species. Every species is different. So the more information I can get on bud burst and leaf out across as many species as I possibly can would be ideal. 

I use the Nature's Notebook. We have a whole slew of volunteers called the tree spotters. Almost every day someone is going out, sometimes multiple observers a day. So that's really high quality data that I can access quite easily. 

THERESA CRIMMINS: The data that have been coming in through Nature's Notebook have slowly and steadily been growing in number. Those data can be used by researchers and non-professional for exploring patterns in how things are occurring over the course of the year as well as changing from year to year. 

MICHAEL DIETZE: Phenology happens rapidly in many places at the same time. Can we predict phenology accurately three days in advance, five days in advance, two weeks in advance? 

So in my own lab, we've been focusing on is this idea of iterative ecological forecast. We have some new information that's coming in continuously. We want to update our understanding on a closer to real time basis. 

There's a question of-- we're starting to see the actual green out in bud burst in early leaving-- my graduate student who's making these phenology forecasts wanted to validate what she's doing in the field. Though, she could not move across all of these different locations in real time. Some of that large data is coming from formal observatories and observation networks, but also the community science represents a real untapped gem for what we're doing. 

JAKE WELTZIN: What we really need to do is use the army of observers that are part of the phenology network to help collect the data to not only build the models but then also to validate those models. We are moving towards implementing phenoforecasts or phenological forecasting, which is a new and exciting area where we are really truly being able to deliver real time and forecasted information directly to the hands of users who are using that to make natural resource management decisions. 

THERESA CRIMMINS: A projection or a prediction about where we think buffel grass will be green and therefore he should go out and treat it. 

BEN WILDER: One of things I think that's fantastic about this product you launched in June is it's already giving me real time information where it matches what I'm seeing on the landscape it tells me when I can go out and control the invasive species buffel grass on the land I manage. 

JAKE WELTZIN: We are sort of on the cutting edge of trying to apply new theory about how do we as scientists work with resource managers to better understand what their needs are and to more effectively and efficiently deliver the information that they need. 

THERESA CRIMMINS: Through these phenoforecasts, we've started to deliver products that are seemingly valuable to decision-makers and folks who are making decisions on the ground. And we're really excited to continue to grow in this direction and expand the suite of products that we can offer and really identify where is phenology information valuable and important and in what format can we deliver that that can really make a difference.