Nature lovers around the UK are being called on to help Natural History Museum scientists track orchid flowering times as they bloom this spring and summer. Orchids are found on every major land mass except Antarctica, with more than 50 species in the UK.
Recent research indicates that their flowering times are shifting in response to climate change. Understanding this in more detail could help researchers predict how a changing climate may affect other species, and whole ecosystems.
Dr John Tweddle, Head of the Natural History Museum’s Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, said, ”Environment change is one of the biggest threats facing British wildlife. Understanding how it is affecting our plants and animals is a key scientific challenge that will in turn help us to predict the impacts of future change.”
The scientists have set-up the Orchid Observers project, and are asking nature fans and photographers alike to take pictures of orchids from across the UK and contribute their images to the programme’s website. Participants not lucky enough to find wild orchids can still help by extracting flowering details from orchids in the Museum’s historic collections and identifying orchid photos uploaded by others.
Combining modern observations with historical records will give scientists information spanning roughly 180 years, which can be compared against UK climate records from the same period.
Dr Mark Spencer, a Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum and Orchid Observers lead scientist, said “Orchids are much loved and charismatic plants, some of which are declining – even in protected sites. Understanding how changes in the environment are affecting orchids may help us plan and protect key populations and areas.”
The project is being developed by the Natural History Museum in collaboration with the Zooniverse and Constructing Scientific Communities projects led by the University of Oxford. Zooniverse Principal Investigator Professor Chris Lintott said: “The project engages volunteers with how the environment around us is changing, and we hope that the combination of modern photography and beautiful historical documents will encourage everyone to get involved.”
For more information or to get involved, visit: www.orchidobservers.org.