Coop’s Scoop: Amphibian and Reptile Citizen Science on the next #CitSciChat

By Caren Cooper August 4th, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Comment

Cuban Rock Iguana (photo by Staselnik)

Cuban Rock Iguana (photo by Staselnik)

There are millions of people taking part in citizen science across the world, and thousands of practitioners – scientists, educators, computer scientists, and activists – organizing citizen science projects. Citizen science has emerged as a new discipline, with novel ways of enabling scientific research, informing policy and conservation, and motivating learning.

New organizations, such as the Citizen Science Association, the European Citizen Science Association, and Citizen Science Network Australia, are helping practitioners connect with each other to solidify best practices and training. Other organizations provide cyberinfrastructure to help administer citizen science projects, like Zooniverse for online projects and and Wildbook for field projects. Other organizations, like Public Lab and Global Community Monitor, support grassroots citizen science. Still other organizations, like SciStarter, connect participants with projects.

To add one more way of connecting on citizen science, in January of this year, I started organizing and moderating monthly discussion sessions on Twitter about citizen science under the hashtag #CitSciChat. The largest hub of citizen science projects, SciStarter, enthusiastically sponsors #CitSciChat because our missions align to build bridges among practitioners and participants. Check out archived chats in Storify from January, February (gamification), March (spring), April (trees), May, June (oceans), and July (sharks).

Red Eft (photo by Jason Quinn)

Red Eft (photo by Jason Quinn)

In a question-answer format with guest panelists, I moderate discussion by raising most of the questions, but everyone is welcome to ask, answer, and follow-up on questions. There are common threads through each #CitSciChat. We explore the scientific, policy, and conservation impact of citizen science projects as well as learning and social outcomes. We chitchat about educational resources for teachers. We share approaches and philosophies to citizen science. We converse about motivations for participants and what types of data volunteers contribute. We discuss who uses the data for varied purposes and how accessible it is for public uses. We talk about transformative experiences and remarkable innovations associated with citizen science.

The theme of #CitSciChat this week is amphibian and reptile citizen science. Amphibians and reptiles, commonly called herps (as in herpetology, based on the Greek root herpet which means creeping), includes animals that hop and slither too, like frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, snakes, lizards, and turtles, to name a few.

Global trends in herpetofauna are troubling. According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, about one third of the 6,000 species of amphibians are at risk of extinction (for comparison, about 12% of birds and 23% of mammals are threatened species). Gibbons and colleagues reported in 2000 a déjà vu level of risk for reptiles. As with most biodiversity loss, the primary culprits are habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, disease, harvesting (for pets), and climate change. Citizen science helped detect some these trends and holds the potential to create conservation solutions.

Fortunately, there’s already a large community of herpetofauna aficionados around the world primed for citizen science. Unfortunately, people who like to find creeping critters don’t have the exact same traditions of natural history recording as, say, bird watchers. Namely, it is not universal to keep the same sort of checklists which are ideal for citizen science.

Last year, two professors at Utah State Univ, Ryan O’Donnell and Andrew Durso, published a paper about how to improve herpetological databases that rely on citizen science. They basically described a system a like eBird, but for cold-blooded spotted, stripped, and mottled herps.

Nevertheless, there are volunteers already contributing data on amphibians and reptiles and reporting these in over 65 citizen science projects. Over 40 of these citizen science projects focus solely on amphibians and/or reptiles. As O’Donnell and Durso explained, if more of these projects switch to checklists and encourage recording non-detections (i.e., what species are absent from a site), researchers will be able to better estimate population trends and distribution. Reporting non-detections, or absences, in addition to presence data makes for more robust insights.

O’Donnell and Durso also emphasized that many projects could be improved by requiring reporting information on volunteer effort (e.g., how much time spent searching and/or over how much area). Amphibian population size in a given area will naturally fluctuate wildly, and high annual variation makes it difficult to detect long-term trends. Detecting trends in relative abundance can be a little easier if participants report their effort.

Finally, O’Donnell and Durso encourage all projects to more actively encourage submissions. To recruit and retain participants to a project requires a type of engagement grounded in mutual understanding, communication, and with shared benefits. Building communities around herpetology research will help citizen science projects reach their full potential in herp conservation. Let’s talk about how on the next #CitSciChat.

Join us for #CitSciChat this Wednesday 5 August at 2pm ET, 7pm BST, and Thursday 6am NZST. With typically about 200 people tweeting, re-tweeting, asking and answering questions, and welcome you to add your voice to the vibrant discussions! Remember to include the hashtag #CitSciChat when you chime in so that everyone can follow the conversation.

Follow this week’s guest panelists:

The team of Greg Pauly, Richard Smart, & Miguel Ordenana (@NatureinLA) – for RASCals and GeckoWatch (both run through iNaturalist)

Chris Smith (@fieldecology) with HerpMapper, a global herp atlas (@HerpMapper)

Sean Sterret (@SeanSterrett) with the USGS

and hopefully Froglife (@froglifers), a herp conservation organization in the United Kingdom


Greg Pauly of RASCals citizen science

Greg Pauly of RASCals citizen science

How Citizen Scientists are Creating an Atlas of Turtles in Connecticut

By Guest August 4th, 2015 at 7:39 am | Comment

Eastern Box Turtle (Image Credit: Andrea Janda/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Eastern Box Turtle (Image Credit: Andrea Janda/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Citizen scientists in Connecticut are creating an atlas of the many species of turtles and helping researchers understand the role of turtles in the ecosystem. Find more information about participating in Connecticut Turtle Atlas, the citizen science project on SciStarter and watch out for our newsletter featuring projects you can do outdoors!

Guest post by Russ Campbell

Nothing quite says summer like a stroll along the water’s edge and finding a turn of turtles basking on a log or witnessing the slow and deliberate pace of an eastern box turtle.  Before these ancient creatures retire to the earth for their winter hibernation, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich asks for your help in mapping the turtle population in the Constitution State.

I recently interviewed Tim Walsh, turtle biologist and Manager of Natural History Collections and Citizen Science at the Bruce Museum, on the Connecticut Turtle Atlas. Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Animals,Citizen Science


Citizen Science for herptile fans!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) July 28th, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Comment

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Amphibians and reptiles, also known asherptiles or herps, are the focus of many citizen science projects.

If you like frogs, turtles, and salamanders, just to name a few, join one of the projects below to help us better understand the distribution and population status of these wonderful creatures!

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!


The SciStarter Team

Read the rest of this entry »

California Dreaming

By Guest July 21st, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Comment

Red-eared Slider (Photo by Gregory Pauly)

Red-eared Slider (Photo by Gregory Pauly)

Citizen scientists document in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles help document reptiles and amphbians in Southern California to aid in conservation efforts. Find more information about participating in RASCals, the citizen science project on SciStarter and watch out for our herptile themed newsletter!

by Sharman Apt Russell

This June, I walked the wilds of Los Angeles looking for lizards. And snakes. And turtles. And because I was finally looking for them, I also began seeing them—and isn’t that a basic truth of life as well as  citizen science?

I visit Los Angeles for ten days twice a year as a teacher for the low-residency MFA graduate writing program at Antioch University. My time in nature is mostly spent in a few long runs near my hotel and in walking back and forth from the hotel to the university campus. This summer, wherever I went, I also took along my camera. I was on a mission for the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) citizen science project—to document any reptile or amphibian I came across and to send that image to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Read the rest of this entry »

The Salamander Crossing Brigades: Citizen Science for Salamanders in Southwest New Hampshire

By Guest July 19th, 2015 at 2:19 pm | Comment

How about giving me a quick lift? Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) (Image credit: Dave Huth/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

How about giving me a quick lift? Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) (Image credit: Dave Huth/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Citizen scientists of the Salamander Crossing Brigades in New Hampshire help thousands of salamanders safely across dangerous roads in their migratory journey to the vernal pools. Find out how they contribute to conservation research by tracking and monitoring the salamanders on an annual basis.

Guest post by Brett Amy Thelen

Every spring, as the earth thaws and warm rains drench New England, thousands of amphibians make their way to vernal pools to breed. It’s a magical time. For the salamanders and frogs undertaking their annual migration, it’s also a dangerous one. One study in western and central Massachusetts found that roadkill rates on even relatively quiet roads could lead to extirpation of local spotted salamander populations in as few as 25 years. Another study reported that 50-100% of salamanders attempting to cross a paved rural road in upstate New York didn’t survive the trek.  Read the rest of this entry »