Southwest Monarch Study Taps Citizen Scientists to Track Butterfly Migration

By Nina Friedman June 25th, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Comment

Migrating monarchs roosting (Image Credit: Nagarajan Kanna/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Migrating monarchs roosting (Image Credit: Nagarajan Kanna/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In Arizona and the surrounding Southwestern United States, over 400 people are participating in a nine-year ongoing game of tag. But these folks are not tagging each other. They’re actually romping about in meadows with small nets, hoping to catch and tag a Monarch butterfly.

In 2003 Chris Kline began the Southwest Monarch Study in order to track the migration pattern of the Monarchs that appear in Arizona. Much was known about the migration of Monarchs down the eastern coast to Mexico, but this was not enough. Kline rallied Arizona locals to achieve mass data collection across the state, uncovering information about the unique Monarch population.

Gail Morris is the current project leader of the Southwest Monarch Study and she radiates a passion for Monarchs. She sees beauty beyond the surface of their iridescent wings. Gail says that “it’s their incredibly long migration that gets me most excited.” She explains how wildly adaptable they are, as they use adverse weather conditions to their advantage. These little, thin winged creatures use Arizona’s annual monsoon to take flight thousands of feet into the air and fly fifty to one hundred miles a day. They can use columns of warm rising air called ‘thermals’ for travel. Once, after a day of meadow-romping, Gail was chatting with a friend by their cars: “This monarch shot up from a tree at angle like a plane ascending.” They marveled as it it joined a cast of hawks in a thermal and disappeared into the sky.

So where are these butterflies going when they catch a ride in the wind? According to the Southwest Monarch study, it depends. Arizona Monarchs have a unique travel agenda, and it even varies from day to day. Monarchs comfortably take the wind as it blows, following it to specific overwintering locations in either California or Mexico depending on how the wind presents itself on the day they take flight. These locations can be as specific as a single tree, flocked to year after year. Some Monarchs even stay in Arizona through the winter, merely migrating to lower altitudes.

All of this raw data was gathered by the locals, and analyzed by professional scientists. “The local people often see the movement but it had never been published,” Gail says. A while back Gail was searching for Monarchs with a group of citizen scientists in Northern Arizona. “These bird watchers heard we were looking for orange butterflies and they said ‘Stop at the fishery, you’ll find them there’”. This did not align with Gail’s previous knowledge about Monarch habitats, but she hesitantly followed her own mantra: the locals know best. When the group arrived at the fishery they were surrounded by walnut trees and these trees were showered in Monarchs. Gail was struck yet again by the Monarch’s adaptability to variable habitats.

Lisa Rensch also finds her free time best spent chasing butterflies. She’s a prominent citizen scientist with the study, as she has been tagging with her daughter since 2013. Her daughter, only one year old when they began, learned to delicately handle the butterflies. Lisa is a true nature lover, completely losing track of time as she tracks the Monarchs. While tagging she has run into goldfinches and even “a nest of deer mice,” she says. “It was lined with thistle down, the babies all snuggled cozy inside.” She never knows what she’ll find while searching for Monarchs.

Currently the Southwest Monarch study is expanding. Groups in California, Utah, and Colorado are now tagging. As science often goes, the findings of the Southwest Monarch study have led not only to answers, but to further questions about these resilient creatures.

Ultimately, the study hopes to further encourage conservation. Families and public areas are already inspired by the project, filling in the missing link to Monarch survival: rich sources of nectar for the butterflies to feed on. Southwest Monarch Study is teaming up with the city of Mesa, Tanto National forest, the Nature Conservatory, and the Bureau of Land Management, where each organization is adding milkweed to their property as a nectar source to support feeding of the Monarchs. Milkweed is a rich nectar source for other pollinators as well, so other animals will benefit a side effect.

If you are wowed by these little troopers and live in the Southwestern United States, check out the Southwest Monarch Study. Find caterpillars, tag butterflies, plant milkweed and watch your garden come alive. If you are elsewhere, keep learning about these fascinating creatures by checking out this video, or learning about the findings from the study. Knowledge breads conservation; discovering how cool science is breads passion.


Love pollinators and want to do more? Check out our newsletter featuring other interesting pollinator citizen science projects that you can participate in!

Celebrate Pollinator Week with Citizen Science!

By Eva Lewandowski June 23rd, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Comment

Photo: Wendy Caldwell

This week we celebrate National Pollinator Week, in honor of the bees, butterflies, beetles, and other animals that provide essential services to ecosystems and agricultural lands everywhere.

Citizen science is at the forefront of pollinator research, and below we highlight six projects that you can join to help study and protect pollinators. To find more, visit the SciStarter Global Project Finder.

Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

Read the rest of this entry »

ASU and SciStarter awarded NSF Innovation CORPS grant to foster access to, and commercialization of, citizen science tools

By Darlene Cavalier June 17th, 2016 at 9:50 pm | Comment

Today, SciStarter, a research affiliate of Arizona State University, was awarded a National Science Foundation iCORPS grant (Innovation Corps).
The primary goal of NSF I-Corps is to foster entrepreneurship that will lead to the commercialization of technology that has been supported previously by NSF-funded research (SciStarter 2.0).
  • The approach to entrepreneurship uses techniques developed to validate each commercial opportunity in a recognized, effective way: customer and business model development
  • The vehicle for commercialization activities will most often be start-ups founded by the I-Corps participants; successful I-Corps projects will be prepared for business formation
  • The I-Corps programs feed the NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) andSmall Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs
  • NSF will work with the private sector to bring additional resources to the table (in the form of partnerships and finance), when warranted
Envisioned Output
SciStarter aims to extend our service to citizen science and STEM learning by making it possible for citizen scientists to build, borrow or buy the instruments needed to do these projects. Too many scientists are  not permitted to sell or even recommend tools and products required to collect and share data (rain gauge, telescopes, sensors, etc.) for their crowd-sourced research projects. SciStarter will be the place where people find and join projects AND access the tools they need. A one-stop shop for individual purchases and bulk-to-individual (classroom or district-wide) purchases.
Through the ICORPS support of the “Citizen Science Tools Team,” we will gain a better understanding on how to approach this and move forward in a way that is scalable.
SciStarter extends the promise of Citizen Science by connecting millions of citizen scientists with scientists in need of their help through formal and informal research projects. Citizen Science is a fast growing field that engages the public in scientific inquiry, most prominently through data collection projects and environmental monitoring using sensors, mini spectrometers, water testing kits and other tools. In our work in the Citizen Science community, we see thousands of examples of citizen science as well as related challenges and opportunities,including access to the tools required to get involved in Citizen Science projects.

We aim to leverage our understanding of this and our advantage of already being the “Match.com” in the Citizen Science community to scale and sustain an “Amazon for Citizen Science” to provide access to the required and recommended instruments, related consulting and other turnkey solutions.

One area of exploration will be the White House’s Makers-to-Manufacturing effort designed to support low cost, high quality tools that can be distributed to 1000 customers on average. This and other Maker/Citizen Science connections will be explored at ASU’s Citizen Science Makers Summit in October 2016.

The Citizen Science Tools Team intends to facilitate a broad adaptation of Citizen Science by reducing a yet-to-be- addressed barrier to help scientists acquire reliable citizen-generated data by making it easier for volunteers to identify, acquire, and use the right tools for each project. We imagine a holistic solution that includes projects, support, match-making, marketing and funding solutions, and optional products such as training materials, customer ratings/reviews of the tools, and on-site consulting. Our interest is in continuing to be a catalyst in Citizen Science by connecting people to opportunities to engage and in lowering barriers to public participation in scientific research while creating a hybrid academic-consumer sustainability model.
The Citizen Science Tools Team leading this effort are:
Darlene Cavalier – PI
Micah Lande – Mentor
Brianne Fisher – Entrepreneurial Lead
David Sittenfeld -Entrepreneurial Lead (2)
Erica Prange – Researcher
If you are a citizen science project owner, add your required or recommended tool to your project page on SciStarter.
If you are a Maker or manufacturer of a low-cost instrument that can be used for citizen science and you’d like to help connect your tool to researchers and participants, email tools@SciStarter.org .
To learn more about the SciStarter-ASU vision for citizen science and makers, watch this brief Public Television video.

Helping Herptiles with Citizen Science

By Eva Lewandowski June 13th, 2016 at 11:44 pm | Comment

Photo: USFWS
Amphibians and reptiles, also known as herptiles or herps, are the focus of many citizen science projects. Are you interested in frogs, turtles, and snakes? If you are, join one of the projects below to study the distribution and population status of these wonderful creatures!
Find more than 1,600 projects and events in the SciStarter Global Project Finder.
Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

Cuban Treefrog
Cuban Treefrogs are an invasive species causing trouble throughout the state of Florida. Report the presence of Cuban Treefrogs and native Treefrogs.

North Carolina Sea Turtle Project
Volunteers along the North Carolina coast are needed to search for sea turtle tracks and report nests and strandings. These activities help biologists monitor and protect the turtles.

Photo: Janalee Caldwell
OK Amphibian Disease Testing
Students and teachers in Oklahoma are needed to catch frogs, quickly swab their skin, and send the collected samples in to be tested for a fungal disease. Lesson plans are available.

Photo: Mike Pingleton
HerpMapper
Whenever you see a reptile or amphibian of any kind, you can report it to HerpMapper. You can easily keep a record of your own sightings and contribute to a larger database of herptile populations.

Photo: Henry Doorly Zoo
Amphibian Conservation and Education Project
Volunteers throughout Nebraska can participate in this project by monitoring amphibian populations, testing for diseases, and monitoring the quality of aquatic habitats.

Explore the Frontiers of CitizenScience in New Book from ASU.

The latest volume in “The Rightful Place of Science” series is a cutting-edge look at the changing relationship between science and the public. Co-edited by SciStarter Founder, Darlene Cavalier, with a blurb from Bill Nye the Science Guy.Get your copy today!

Princeton American Chemical Society, Science Cafe on June 16: Adult Science Literacy

By Darlene Cavalier June 6th, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Comment

Princeton ACS Science Café
Thursday, June 16, 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Princeton University, Frick Chemistry Laboratory, Taylor Commons

How highly do you value science?
In what ways is science important to society?
What is our collective scientific IQ?
How can we improve scientific literacy?

Join us for an informal café-style discussion of the role of science with some very engaging panelists:

Darlene Cavalier — Professor at Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training, part of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Founder of Science Cheerleader and SciStarter

Andrew Zwicker — Physicist, Head of Education Programs at Princeton Plasma Physics, and NJ State Assemblyman

Craig Shelton – Aeon Holistic Agriculture Founder and CEO, Instructor Princeton University’s Environmental Institute, and Chef & Culinary Expert

The event kicks off with your participation in science myth busting, with prizes. It includes hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Fee is $10 per attendee, collected at the door. Reserve your place by June 10 by sending email to louise.lawter@gmail.com. Frick Laboratory is located at the east end of the pedestrian bridge on Washington Rd, adjacent to the Weaver Track and Field Stadium. Parking is available in Lot 21, corner of Faculty Road and Fitzrandolph Road or other lots along Ivy Lane.