Plant Phenology Ontologies (PPO) Project


To annotate plant phenological data sources using terms from the plant ontology, biological collections ontology and the newly developed plant phenology ontology to create a set of high-level data to help answer questions relating to phenological stages and their expression across time and space, and different environments. The output will be a coordinated global datastore (with mechanisms to access the store) that can be re-used and sustained into the future.


Plant phenology — the timing of life-cycle events, such as flowering or leafing-out — has cascading effects on multiple levels of biological organization from individuals to ecosystems. Despite the importance of understanding phenology for managing biodiversity and ecosystem services, we are not currently able to address continent and global level responses to anticipated climatic changes. For example, ecosystem productivity models preform fairly well in estimating function, but do poorly in estimating the timing of ecological processes (leaf out, peak productivity, mid summer senescence, etc.). The problem of making phenological data useful to broad research and education communities stems from the fact that disparate groups, including ground-based observations, satellite remote sensing, digital repeat photography, and museum collections, are using non-standardized terminologies and metrics during data collection and data processing.

Current Status uses a novel data ingestion pipeline based on ontologies -- logical models that codify existing knowledge and make data interpretable by computers. The PPO defines plant phenological traits based on the abundance (presence, absence, or count) of relevant plant structures (e.g., flowers, leaves). Each trait value in is linked to a trait from PPO and tied to a record of an observation, which can be done by humans (in situ or on museum specimens) or by a machine/sensor. Through these observations, trait data are linked to the organism observed, the time and place of the observation, and the agent that collected the original data and the protocol used. Data in are not structured for a specific use case and can be reused over and over again to address many different questions. Plant phenology is now available for testing on Here you can query phenological traits and narrow search by date range, genus, Specific Epithet and source.

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