My name is Kyra Kaiser, and I am an undergraduate assistant helping Dr. HilleRisLambers with her fieldwork this summer, and I have seen some of you on the MeadoWatch trails! I am an undergraduate at University of Washington, and I recently finished a research project studying one of MeadoWatch’s focal species, Glacier lily. I hope that you have seen Glacier lily if you have been out on the trails lately! This plant is found at high elevations and blooms in brilliant yellow soon after snowmelt (see picture above). After spending so much time researching Glacier lily, I was thrilled to meet my study species in person on Mount Rainier!
Our lab (the HilleRisLambers lab) is particularly interested in nontraditional sources of data, such as data that is gathered by all of you volunteers. I studied another underutilized source of data for studying phenology, herbarium specimens. Herbarium specimens are plants that are collected, often during bloom, and preserved for research purposes. I used data on Glacier lily specimens collected across the Pacific Northwest from 1907 to 2015. I retrieved my data from the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, a group of herbaria in the Pacific Northwest that make information on their specimens available online. Some herbarium specimens in their collection date back to the late 1800s! Check out their website to see some impressive images of old pressed plants!
Using a climate model, I obtained information on temperature and snowfall based on the collection year and location of where each Glacier lily specimen had been collected. Then, I analyzed the effects of different factors on the bloom time of Glacier lily. I estimated bloom time based on the date that a flowering specimen was collected. In the graph below, each dot represents one Glacier lily specimen (i.e. an observation of Glacier lily flowering). I found a strong relationship between the spring temperature of the specimen collection location and the flowering time of Glacier lily. Glacier lily blooms earlier in years with warmer spring temperatures.
If you pay attention to weather and flowers, this relationship might be intuitive. Warmer spring temperatures lead to earlier snowmelt, which allows early blooming flowers to pop up sooner. This trend has been confirmed by several studies (and MeadoWatch data!). However, since herbarium specimens are infrequently used as a source of data, I wanted to test if my results matched widely accepted trends. This would allow me to identify any hidden errors or internal biases present in herbarium specimen data as well as learn about the benefits and drawbacks of using this source of data. I discovered that herbarium specimen data does have some problems (e.g. missing and inaccurate specimen collection locations), I concluded that this source of 100+ years of data has a lot of potential if these obstacles are overcome.
I hope that you and I will see more studies on herbarium specimens in the years to come!