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Climate Change, Phenology, and Community Interactions: Helping students explore the complexity of changing ecosystems

Author(s): John Doudna

Lansing Community College

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Students engage with findings from long-term environmental and phenology data sets collected at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, a high-elevation field station in Colorado, to explore the effects of climate change on the phenology of migrating and hibernating species.  After becoming familiar with the people involved with the data collection, and organisms studied through videos and discussion, students explore figures and regressions from Inouye et al. (2000) based on those data to understand the value of regressions in detecting patterns and possible mismatches of animal and/or plant phenology (e.g. marmots emerge before plants grow big enough to be nutritious).  Students can then build upon their initial understanding by exploring data through the National Phenology Network (NPN), choosing a trophic relationship, and exploring the possibility of mismatches. Finally, students present their results in the form of a “poster” drawn on the board and discuss with the class their findings.

The two parts of the activity can be completed in a single period of ~2.5 hours, over several periods, or each phase can be used separately to explore scientific publications and findings (Inouye article) or contemporary data to look for possible phonological shifts and mismatches (NPN).

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