0 Orchid spotters map shifting blooms

A citizen science project to study when and where orchids bloom around the UK has already revealed 200 new flowering locations for particular species

PyramidalOrchid MikeAllenMembers of the public are submitting and identifying orchid photos, and also annotating historical specimens.

Called Orchid Observers, the initiative aims to measure the effect of warming, and other environmental changes, on the distribution of 29 different orchids.

Reports have already been received from more than 1,500 locations.

"We're really, really happy about the number of people who've got involved," said Kath Castillo, a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London.

She said the 200 new locations were a pleasant surprise. "People have actually photographed, and uploaded their field record, for locations where the BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland) had previously not had a record. That's potentially quite interesting."

Orchid Observers is a collaboration between the museum and Zooniverse, the citizen science platform established at the University of Oxford.

The data it yields will not only be used by researchers at the museum, but will feed into the biological records data held by the BSBI.

"The results are identifying new locations for some of our commoner species, as well as providing information on flowering times," said BSBI president Ian Denholm.

The team is also pleased that several rare species, such as the green-winged orchid and the white helleborine, have been spotted flourishing in some of those 200 locations that were not yet in the records.

Studying the timing of seasonal events like flowers blooming or frogs spawning - a field called phenology - offers insights into how the living world is affected by environmental change. It also helps scientists try to predict the results of continued change.

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The project will eventually compare the data from this year's field work with the historical orchid records from the Natural History Museum's herbarium. Verifying and annotating those records is another task volunteers can help with on the Orchid Observers website.

A preliminary look at the data has already suggested that two orchids which bloom early in the season, early-purple and green-wing, flowered on average at least 10 days earlier this year than in the museum's records.

"This is all new data and we don't know how significant it is yet," Ms Castillo said. "We have to do a lot more analysis.

"But it's kind of an interesting thing, and it shows that it works. You can get people to go out and collect records, and they don't have to be experts. They can submit their data and the results are interesting."

Volunteers can log onto the site to help annotate new photos as well as historical records.

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