Summary: Phenology is the study of periodic, seasonal biological phenomena that are often correlated with climatic conditions. Examples include the timing of plant flowering or bird migration. Changes in climate can result in phenophase shifts that can in turn affect the way ecosystems function. In this topic guide, students observe the timing of a local cyclic event, and compare their observations to historical records. They use evidence to support whether or not the timing of a natural event has changed, and identify how changed in phenology might affect communities.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Patterns of periodic biological phenomena and events are predictable from year to year
  2. The timing of phenological events can change, particularly in response to changes in climate

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • MS-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Identify a phenological event in the local community, and make first-hand observations about the timing of the event
  2. Compare the observed timing of the event with historical records
  3. Identify some of the actual or potential local impacts of phenophase changes

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Readings:
    • The Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework, 2010—Forecasts a shift in species distribution (p. 49-54) as a result of climate change, and identifies actions such as: “…monitor change in natural systems, and to monitor and map plant species distributions”
    • Birds and Climate Change—This 2009 report shows that many bird species are moving north.
    • Article: Scientists use TOPP data to model how the distribution of whales, sharks, seabirds and tuna could be affected by climate change.
  • Lesson Plans from the University of Maine Signs of the Seasons—Designed for middle and high school students in New England, these lessons can be adapted to Oregon species and used with younger students.
  • Project BudBurst—Citizen scientists monitor plants as the seasons change. Educator section provides implementation suggestions and standards connections.
  • Riverscalendar—In this project, volunteers document the emergence of adult mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies in Oregon rivers, and share the information on iNaturalist


  • Assessment and extension ideas are included in the Signs of the Seasons lesson plans.
  • Did you find evidence that the timing of a natural event has changed over time? Explain what you found and what you think it means.