Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pythons along the ol' San Juan?... on the "science of appearances"

[ U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior / National Park Service photo by Lori Oberhofer]

Last year, the U. S. Geological Survey released a study projecting that the climate of the Four Corners region could become habitable for pythons, just one long lifetime from now.

[Projected climate in the continental United States in the year 2100, based on global warming models, that matches climate in the pythons' native range in Asia. USGS image.]

Midway through this winter of seriously weird weather, while waiting for fresh pow to blanket the back country of my home range, I took a walk on the mesa the other day. Snow was melting off the fields, and in some south-facing furrows, I got a glimpse of the future. Not pythons, gators, or tigers; but, oh my, green-up was in full (so to speak) 'bloom.'

Got your attention?...a call for citizen-scientists
"Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate. Examples include the timing of leafing and flowering, agricultural crop stages, insect emergence, and animal migration. All of these events are sensitive measures of climatic variation and change, are relatively simple to record and understand, and are vital to both the scientific and public interest." [USA National Phenology Network(USANPN)]

Long the province of of a disorganized rabble of farmers, hunters, gatherers, and peripatetic seekers of random knowledge (see Thoreau's "Faith in a Seed"), citizen-phenologists now have a budding national network to collate and analyze their observations. Since 2007, the USANPN has collected botanical data in two programs, Project Budburst and NPN Core Protocols, to document budding and blooming times. Both are looking for citizen observers, so all interested plant-gazers should check them out.

In December 2008, USGS announced the launch of a new Wildlife Phenology Program, a partnership between USANPN and The Wildlife Society. Data collection will begin in 2010, giving plenty of time to document the projected invasion of our beloved local waters by the dreaded duo depicted above. (OK, those two were doing the dance of death in Everglades National Park. Be careful in the Big Bend country though. See below.)

[Current areas of the continental United States with climate matching that of the pythons' native range in Asia. USGS image.]
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