All in phenological good time


Nature’s process sets the pace

By Michael Cope - Special to The Times



Courtesy photo Piedmont Physic Garden Founder Toccoa Switzer (center) poses for a picture with Michael Cope and Hannah Spencer, two Clemson students who are working as summer interns at the garden. Cope is the author of the article accompanying this photo.


UNION — Timing is everything, in life, and definitely in all things related to nature. In scientific terms, it’s called phenology, the study of the timing of recurring biological processes and events. Think of it as nature’s calendar.

Events like hibernation, bird migration, flowering, spring green-up, fruiting, and the color change and dropping of leaves in the fall are part of phenology.

Farmers have tracked phenological activity all over the world since before recorded history. This knowledge has historically served as a calendar that guided planting times for crops. In recent decades, phenology has gained attention in the scientific community as a means to understand how plants and animals respond to environmental change.

Monitoring those patterns helps us better understand how seasonal patterns are changing and helps us make predictions for the future. For instance, many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed their young.

Humans know that allergy season begins with flowering season, and farmers need to know the cycle of insect development and apply pesticides and fertilizers accordingly. It’s all in the timing, or in this case, the phenological process.

Although much research focuses on the phenology of mammals, birds, and insects, leaf and flowering phenology are widely studied because of their importance in ecological processes, biological diversity conservation, tourism, and agriculture. Phenology plays an important role in human culture as well, with festivals around the world celebrating annual events from whale migrations to cherry blossoms.

Numerous government-sponsored observational networks constantly collect leaf and flowering phenology data. Flowering observations are made in plots or gardens year after year.

Changes in spring green-up and autumn leaf-fall are much more difficult to study scientists often rely on aerial photography from satellites and airplanes to study leaf phenology of trees. The timing of the plant life cycle is directly affected by temperature, rainfall and day length.

Using advanced computing systems scientists analyze the red-blue-green wavelengths reflecting from a forest canopy. This helps us understand the photosynthetic capacity of the tree canopy over large scales.

Though the overall complexity of phenology may be more than any single human mind can process, phenology research has yielded important information for sustainable development and agriculture.

Nature will continue to provide many answers and phenological research will continue to offer a deep understanding of nature’s rhythms, all in good time.

Michael Cope is an intern at the Piedmont Physic Garden and is a second-year Ph.D student at Clemson University involved with several research projects in spatial and computational ecology, specializing in geospatial analyses using advanced geographic information systems (GIS).

Courtesy photo Piedmont Physic Garden Founder Toccoa Switzer (center) poses for a picture with Michael Cope and Hannah Spencer, two Clemson students who are working as summer interns at the garden. Cope is the author of the article accompanying this photo.
http://uniondailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/web1_thumbnail_IMG_3622.jpgCourtesy photo Piedmont Physic Garden Founder Toccoa Switzer (center) poses for a picture with Michael Cope and Hannah Spencer, two Clemson students who are working as summer interns at the garden. Cope is the author of the article accompanying this photo.
Nature’s process sets the pace

By Michael Cope

Special to The Times

Michael Cope is an intern at the Piedmont Physic Garden and is a second-year Ph.D student at Clemson University involved with several research projects in spatial and computational ecology, specializing in geospatial analyses using advanced geographic information systems (GIS).

Michael Cope is an intern at the Piedmont Physic Garden and is a second-year Ph.D student at Clemson University involved with several research projects in spatial and computational ecology, specializing in geospatial analyses using advanced geographic information systems (GIS).

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