Wildflower Watch

Grizzly bears depend on the timing of plants for food throughout the year.

The timing of when plants flower and fruit is critical to the survival of many animals, from bees and hummingbirds to grizzly bears. With the onset of climate change, we’ve seen that timing begin to shift and that could have a ripple effect throughout the food chain. Some that could have serious consequences.

  •  Will there be nectar for hummingbirds when and where they need it?
  • Will berry bushes produce fruit at the right time for bears to load up on critical calories before they begin hibernation?

To get a handle on this seasonal timing of ecological events– which is known as phenology – Trevor Bloom with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Wyoming has begun a multi-year project to study these effects in parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. And, they are depending on work of a well-known predecessor to come up with results.

In the Footsteps of a Visionary

In the 70s and 80s, scientist Frank Craighead carefully documented when plants in parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem leafed out, bloomed and bore fruit. A few years ago, TNC Scientist Corinna Riginos discovered these handwritten notes in the basement of Craighead’s old cabin.  Today, our scientists are using these notes to retrace his footsteps, repeating these observations of the same species, in the very same places that Craighead walked.  

As we collect new data on nearly 50 species of plants, we are comparing it with Craighead’s to see what is different. And that information can help land managers understand how they might help plants and animals adapt to the changing climate.

The results of our first two years clearly demonstrate that many species of native wildflowers in Grand Teton National Park are sensitive to temperature changes and are blooming, on average, two to three weeks earlier than observed by Dr. Craighead.For example, yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica) – an important spring food source for grizzly bears emerging from hibernation – are appearing in mid-April, while Craighead observed these flowers appearing in the same location in early May.

You Can Help

Become part of the solution by joining our Wildflower Watch citizen science program each spring and summer. After a short training, you’ll help us collect data along a couple of popular hiking trails near Jackson. The data you collect will be added to a national database. that will help scientists and planners gain a broad picture of how climate change is affecting plants and animals across the U.S.

If you’d like to get involved, contact TNC scientist Trevor Bloom. And join the Wildflower Watch group on Facebook.