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Winterberry Manual


The materials include:

  • Survey forms

  • Berry photo guides

  • Educator resources

  • Reports to communities

  • Scientific papers

The University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Far North Phenology Network (FNPN) is aimed at tracking the phenology of boreal forest and Arctic tundra plant species in a warming world. Phenology is the study of the timing of life events. Changes in the timing of the seasons have created new conditions and interactions for northern ecosystems.

All the FNPN projects have emphasized youth engagement in environmental monitoring, and the process of learning, teaching and sharing knowledge across generations. The data are collected by land managers, adult volunteers, educators, families, classrooms, youth camps and youth clubs.

Because of the central importance of wild berry species for the health and culture of those of us who live in the far north, and the importance of berries to the diets of wildlife, berry phenology has been an important aspect of all the FNPN projects. Materials from two FNPN projects are presented here, one that supports monitoring of reproductive phenology of berry species from budding to fruiting during the growth season, and a second that supports monitoring of berry abundance, condition and availability to animals in the fall and winter. 


Protocols were developed to investigate the flowering and fruiting phenology of important berry species in Alaska during the Melibee Project, the first project of the Far North Phenology Network based out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The protocol was used to address a specific question regarding the potential for a flowering invasive legume (Melilotus albus) to compete for pollinators with blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and lowbush cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).  The protocol may be used, and has been field tested, for scoring phenology of any berry plant species of interest to a community. The invasive legume is one of the most aggressively spreading invasive species in the state of Alaska, and overlaps in flowering times with both berry species. The Melibee Project was motivated by the concern that the accelerated spread of invasive species could negatively impact our subsistence berry species.

Below there is a link to the protocol for monitoring reproductive phenology of berry species (flower buds to fruit) in the Melibee Project 

Protocol for monitoring berry abundance, ripening, berry condition, and fruit loss in the Winterberry were developed to investigate the flowering and fruiting phenology of important berry species in Alaska during the Winterberry Project, the fourth project of the Far North Phenology Network based out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The protocol is used to address a specific question regarding the timing and fate of berries in fall and winter for 4 widely distributed berry species that are important food resources for people and overwintering animals in Alaska. These species include Empetrum nigrum (crowberry or blackberry), Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry or lowbush cranberry), Rosa acicularis (rosehips), and Viburnum edule (highbush cranberry). The protocol may be used or adapted for any berry species that may be of interest to a community. 


Berry species flowering and fruiting phenophase guides PDF Link. A photo guide for identifying the stages of berry reproductive phenology for Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry or lowbush cranberry) and Vaccinium uliginosum (lowbush blueberry). 

Berry phenophase and fruit condition guides: Link to website with guides

Provides photo guides for the different berry condition categories used in the Winterberry monitoring protocol for Empetrum nigrum (crowberry or blackberry), Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry or lowbush cranberry), Rosa acicularis (rosehips), and Viburnum edule (highbush cranberry). 



Educator resources and lessons to support youth learning during berry monitoring projects

These two collections of lessons are designed to support youth and educator engagement and learning during their involvement in the Melibee Project and Winterberry Citizen Science berry monitoring projects in Alaska. These resources may provide ideas or models for other projects interested in engaging youth in berry monitoring efforts.



Melibee Project introduction and outreach video: Link to video.

The video introduces the core questions and motivations behind establishing the berry and invasive plant phenology monitoring program. This video may be used by other communities interested in how invasive plant species could interact with their berry species and may want to use monitoring of flowering times as a way to assess the potential impact.


Winterberry Citizen Science Berry monitoring e-Training videos: Link to videos.  

This series of three training videos describes the process of selecting an appropriate and convenient berry monitoring site, selecting a species to monitor, setting up a site, conducting a berry abundance survey, and conducting weekly monitoring of berry conditions for the Winterberry Citizen Science Project. These three videos could be used by other berry monitoring programs to assist volunteers through the steps of setting up a berry monitoring site and tracking berry abundance and condition. The approach used here may be applied to any berry or fruit species.



Berry phenology monitoring data for Vaccinium vitis-idaea and Vaccinium uliginosum:

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Far North Phenology Network partnered with Hands on the Land, a clearing house for environmental education programs on public lands, to create an online data portal. Volunteers in the monitoring project were able to enter their data in the field from their smart phone or tablet, graph data and compare it to data from other sites, and play with the interactive map of Melibee monitoring sites. Over the course of the two summers, 246 volunteers made 868 phenology (or the timing of life events) observations on focal species at 106 different monitoring sites across Alaska. Volunteers included families, interested individuals, school groups and teachers, youth camps, tourists, nature centers, conservation non-profits, and professional biologists. The database also included leaf phenology data for several berry-producing species from a successive Far North Phenology Network citizen science project that came out of questions emerging from volunteer observations during the Melibee project. Link to additional information.



Reports to communities

2012 Melibee Project Citizen Science Report

This report highlights the results from the first year of the Melibee project, including the developmental rates of blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) in the Yukon Flats, Tanana Valley, Anchorage Bowl, and Kenai Peninsula regions of Alaska. It also highlights the results from some experimental studies looking at the effects of invasive plants on the pollination of these two. 

2013 Melibee Project Citizen Science Report

This report highlights the results from the second year of the Melibee project, including the overlap in flowering times of invasive plant species and with blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) in major ecoregions of Alaska. It includes a look at variation in timing of flowering between years, and a demonstration of how the monitoring data will be used in modeling berry phenology alongside herbarium data.  


Scientific papers

Spellman, K.V., and C.P.H. Mulder. 2016. Validating herbarium-based phenology models using citizen science data. BioScience 66: 897–906  [PDF link]

Abstract: Both herbarium specimens and citizen-science observations have become increasingly accessible but underutilized sources of data for phenology research. We developed and tested a novel technique that uses high-quality citizen-science observations to provide an independent validation of phenology models derived from herbarium specimens. Using this approach, we were able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the herbarium data set. We found that our models were valid for understanding the relative shifts in the phenology of the focal species across a large geographic area but needed further calibration to provide accurate predictions for specific dates and locations. As herbarium specimens become increasingly digitized and citizen science becomes more frequently used as a research methodology, the potential application of the technique we present here will grow.


Spellman, K.V. 2015. Educating for resilience in the North: Building a toolbox for teachers.  Ecology and Society 20(1):46. [PDF link]


Abstract: Communities at far northern latitudes must respond rapidly to the many complex problems that are arising from changing climate. An emerging body of theoretical and empirical work has explored the role that education plays in enhancing the resilience and adaptability of social-ecological systems. To foster effective, local, and timely responses of high-latitude communities to climate-driven social-ecological change, educators need access to successful and efficient teaching tools to foster resilience-promoting feedbacks. The potential for existing teaching practices to address this need, however, must be investigated and communicated to teachers. Here, I review the education and sustainability science literature for attributes of resilience to which formal education can contribute, and I investigate teaching strategies that help to enhance these attributes. Using examples from Alaska, I examine the potential for systems thinking, metacognition, scenarios thinking, citizen science, and stewardship learning to promote resilience in social-ecological systems. I begin to develop a toolbox of teaching strategies for resilience education and suggest that policy for formal schools incorporates these tools into everyday teaching practice.


Bestelmeyer, S.V., M.M. Elser, K.V. Spellman, E.B. Sparrow, S.S. Haan-Amato, A. Keener. 2015. Collaboration, interdisciplinary thinking, and communication: new approaches to K-12 ecology education. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13: 37–43. [PDF link]


Abstract: Ecologists often engage in global-scale research through partnerships among scientists from many disciplines. Such research projects require collaboration, interdisciplinary thinking, and strong communication skills. We advocate including these three practices as an integral part of ecology education at the kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) level, as opposed to waiting until the graduate level. Current discourse about K–12 ecology education focuses on promoting lessons in which students learn science by conducting research rather than simply reading textbooks. Here, we present five models of K–12 ecology education programs that emphasize collaboration, interdisciplinary thinking, and communication within student research projects on the ecology of drylands and other ecosystems. Such practices not only provide additional skills for future ecologists but also prepare students for success in any career as well as for ecologically literate citizenship.



Youth count berry abundances in Bethel, Alaska, USA.  Photo credit: L. Parkinson, UAF.

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