Wikipedia pageviews reflect observable patterns in phenology

Study examines the role of phenology in human-nature interactions through analysis of web traffic to Wikipedia species pages

Data resources used via GBIF : Taxonomic data for 31,751 species
Icterus galbula
Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) observed in Kennebunk, ME, USA by Ken Janes. Photo via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Seasonal and interannual variations affect plant and animal life cycle events, such as flowers blooming and birds migrating. Phenology, the study of such events, can play a role in how and when humans interact with nature, a phenomenon with potential importance to conservation.

Using three years of log data from the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, authors of this study analysed pageviews of articles of more than 31,000 species matched against the GBIF taxonomic backbone across 245 languages, to explore seasonal patterns in Wikipedia activity. They found seasonal variation in more than 20 per cent of species pages, compared to just 6.5 per cent in a random sample of non-species pages. Most pages showed a single annual peak, while ~10 per cent had two annual peaks.

Reflecting actual phenological patterns, pageviews for groups like insects and flowering plants exhibited higher seasonality than mammals. Seasonal patterns were not consistent across Wikipedia languages, as fewer than two per cent of species showed the same pattern in all languages, with greater seasonality shown for languages spoken at higher latitudes, i.e. further from the Equator.

Original article

Mittermeier JC, Roll U, Matthews TJ and Grenyer R (2019) A season for all things: Phenological imprints in Wikipedia usage and their relevance to conservation. PLOS Biology. Public Library of Science (PLoS) 17(3): e3000146. Available at: