Here in New England, the natural world changes with the seasons. In the spring, as the average daily temperature begins to warm, the trees begin to bloom and flowers begin to grow. We call the study of these seasonal changes “phenology”.
In the spring, vernal pools (temporary pools of water that are a result of snow melting and rain falling) form and become dry by mid-summer. They are home to some incredible species of life, including the spotted salamander. This species of salamander is endemic to vernal pools, meaning they rely on vernal pools to live and reproduce.
Every spring, spotted salamanders, feeling the pull of evolution, set out to migrate to newly formed pools. On the first big rainfall of March or early April, if you set out along the roads surrounding a vernal habitat, you will likely find adult spotted salamanders searching for new pools to call home. However, as we approach the dog-days of summer, spotted salamanders have mated, laid their eggs, and left the vernal pools to burrow deep into the forest floor to stay cool, dry and safe for next season.
Change does not stop with the burrowing of salamanders, though! If you look carefully throughout the forests of New England, the world continues to change around us. Robins have built their nests and are beginning to lay eggs. Deer have given birth to fawns and are protecting their vulnerable young from the dangers of the world. Out in the ocean, humpback whales have returned from their mating waters in the Caribbean Sea and are feasting on the vast amounts of small fish like the sand lace, in the cold coastal waters.
Project BudBurst and the National Phenology Network are two Citizen Science projects that encourage teachers to take their students outside and document the changing world. Each project will collect the data submitted by students and use it to track the changing of the seasons to compare how the plant might be changing from season to season, year to year. Both projects an easy way to get your students outside and submit real data to national science research.
Image 1: Credit Matthew Niemiller CC BY-NC
Image 2: Credit Dmitry Mozzherin CC BY-NC-SA