Wanted: Nature lovers who are willing to monitor the first lilac blooms of the season, the arrival of monarch butterflies, the ripening of wild strawberries and reddening of maple leaves in Maine.

Compensation: The satisfaction of contributing to a better scientific understanding of climate change in Maine.

Maine climate scientists and wildlife officials are enlisting scores of volunteers across the state to help document the effects of climate change on common plants and animals.

“We are looking for people who are interested and passionate,” said Esperanza Stancioff, who is organizing the project as climate change educator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Maine Sea Grant program.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USA National Phenology Network, the National Park Service and University of Maine climate scientists and educators are also involved in the project.

More than a year in the planning, the Signs of the Seasons: A Maine Phenology Project is looking for people to track seasonal changes in 13 indicator species, from seaweed to the American robin. The results will help scientists understand what climate changes are happening in Maine and their impact on wildlife.

Stancioff said the survival of animals and plants in Maine hinges on predictable seasonal changes, such as migrating birds that depend on the emergence of the insects they feed on by the time they arrive in Maine.

“We don’t have a lot of data on these co-occurrences,” said Stancioff.

While farmers, fishermen, gardeners and others have recorded their seasonal observations in Maine for centuries, many of them passed down in diaries, this is the first organized statewide phenological project.

Phenology is the study of the seasonal timing of recurring life events, such as animal migrations, insect metamorphoses and foliage changes.

“It has been spotty work in the past,” said Sally Stockwell, director of conservation for Maine Audubon, a partner in the program.

Volunteers will be trained to go out about once a week and gather observations about one or more of the indicator species. It could be a lilac bush in their backyard or milkweed plants in a park.

They will be asked to enter their observations into a national database. Maine Audubon is working with four middle schools, in Falmouth, Rockland, Bangor and Greenville, and seeking individual volunteers as well. The goal is to start the observations as soon as the training is completed.

Spring seasonal changes are well under way across Maine.

Jessica Muhlin, a marine biologist at Maine Maritime Academy, spent Thursday morning helping Stancioff develop a protocol for tracking the seasonal changes in rockweed — Ascophyllum nodosum — also known as knotted wrack.

This time of year, rockweed’s productive receptacles, each about the size of a kidney bean and fun to pop, are beginning to form. Starting as early as May, the male receptacles, which are orange inside, and the female receptacles, which are olive green, will release their contents, like flowering trees.

“The coolest thing about the Signs of the Seasons is it reacquaints people with their backyards and coast and gets people to think about things they had never thought of before,” said Muhlin.

Tracy Ross, a 4-H leader for a group of children from Gray and North Yarmouth, said people pay more attention to science when they are collecting data to be used by scientists. Her group has been involved in water quality monitoring in Casco Bay, a vernal pool survey in Windham and, now, a light-pollution survey.

She has signed them up for the phenology project as their next venture.

“It is getting involved in a larger community and helping to be part of making everything better,” said Ross.

Ivan Fernandez, a professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, said the data from the monitoring will help scientists understand how species are adapting, or not, to climate change.

“The collective number of people making observations is extremely valuable,” he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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