Author Archive

Changing Currents turns students into environmental scientists

By July 18th, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Comment

Children analyze water samples with the Changing Currents Project. Photo: www.ecospark.ca

Children analyze water samples with the Changing Currents Project. Photo: www.ecospark.ca

Changing Currents, a project originating in Toronto, Canada, familiarizes middle- and high-school students with local watersheds and teaches them how to conduct water quality analyses.

This is a great way for students to become environmental scientists for a day! After heading out to a local stream and donning hip waders, students collect water samples and analyze their data. Through this program, students get out in nature for a while and learn about the importance of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Hip waders keep citizen scientists dry while sampling streams. Photo: www.ecospark.ca

Hip waders keep citizen scientists dry while sampling streams. Photo: www.ecospark.ca

Urban watersheds can be adversely affected by many problems, including urban run-off and storm water, agriculture, and pesticide use. It is imperative to keep watersheds clean, not only for us humans (who depend on natural sources for our drinking water!) but also for the animals and plants in the larger ecosystems that these waterways support.

In addition to learning a bit about science and nature, students also contribute their data to a larger study of Toronto-area watersheds and are encouraged to take action if they find problems in their local streams and rivers. Want to see what it’s like? Check out their fun video!

The Changing Currents group created a thorough, well-organized field manual for teachers to help organize scholarly stream outings. Take a look inside and learn how to conduct a survey and identify aquatic critters!

To get involved, first register with the group and then attend a training session or host a Student Stream Assessment Workshop. Students can learn more about water quality and biomonitoring in the Student Area of the website.

We think you’d look great in hip waders, so take a look and get out there! Read the rest of this entry »

Start spotting sharks for science!

By June 29th, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Comment

Snap a photo of a whale shark and help scientists! Photo: Zac Wolf via Wikipedia

Snap a photo of a whale shark and help scientists! Photo: Zac Wolf via Wikipedia

Da-dum … da-dum …

Don’t look now, but there are  researchers hoping you’ll hop in shark-infested waters in the name of science!

Members of ECOCEAN want your help photographing whale sharks on your next ocean outing. Your pictures will be uploaded to the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library, a photographic database of whale shark (Rhincodon typus) sightings.

Marine biologists will use your photographs to identify whale sharks and keep a record of interactions with individual sharks. Similar to how images of fingerprints can identify specific humans, photographs of whale sharks’ skin patterning, gills, and scars, combined with state-of-the-art pattern-recognition algorithms, allow scientists recognize specific sharks across multiple encounters.

If you’re keen to help out, hop off the boat this summer and submit whale shark photos and sighting information. You will be helping scientists and assisting in the conservation of a threatened species. Not a bad way to spend a summer vacation! Read the rest of this entry »

Help keep the crawdads from taking over!

By June 20th, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Comment

Help scientists deter invasive crayfish species. Photo: Craywatch.org

Help scientists deter invasive crayfish species. Photo: Craywatch.org

Some of you may have fond memories of summers spent kneeling by nearby streams, peering intently for crayfish to play with (or cook up for dinner!). These tiny, lobster-like creatures are a staple of freshwater ecosystems, southern menus, and even neuroscience classes. (No kidding — I learned about action potentials from a wonderful college professor who studies crayfish!)

Not all crayfish are alike — some native species of crawdad are being outcompeted by invasive, non-native species. Indeed, nearly half of the North American crayfish varieties are considered to be threatened.

To combat the non-native invasion, Craywatch.org is enlisting citizen scientists to monitor the spread of invasive crayfish in North America. To participate, all you need is a smartphone with a camera and a GPS tag! Find a crayfish, snap a couple of close-ups, and upload to the group’s Flickr account. Presto — you’re a citizen scientist!

Dr. Zen Faulkes, a professor of biology at The University of Texas-Pan American, recently started this project after reading a study about the positive impact of citizen scientists on bee monitoring.

Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen scientists make a difference in the San Juans

By May 5th, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Comment

Scientists in the San Juans study the health of  local ecosystems. Photo: Kwiaht website

Scientists in the San Juans study the health of local ecosystems. Photo: Kwiaht website

Up north, in Washington State’s tranquil San Juan Islands, members of the Kwiáht marine research team are hard at work keeping an eye on local sea life and terrestrial critters. Kwiaht, a word in the Coast Salish dialect, refers to a place that is physically healthy and spiritually clean.

The group hopes to ensure the continued health of the San Juan Island ecosystem by allowing local citizen scientists to participate in ecological research.

Want to volunteer? Contact Kwiaht’s program director to find out how you can become involved as well!

In addition to research and outreach, Kwiaht also aims to help restore terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by working with public land managers to develop conservation strategies.

Read the rest of this entry »

May is the month to monitor Monarchs

By May 1st, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Comments (2)

A female monarch butterfly shows off her colors.  Photo: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson.

A female monarch butterfly shows off her colors. Photo: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson.

As a child growing up in New Hampshire, I remember going with my mother to collect Monarch chrysalises for my science classes. We’d park off a nearby roadway, spy a patch of milkweed, and poke around until we found a chrysalis or two. During the next week or so, my classmates and I watched spellbound at the transformation from chrysalis to butterfly. Science truly came alive!

Well, it’s that time of year again. After spending the winter sunning in Mexico or southern California, adult Monarch butterflies migrate north (as far as Canada!) during the spring to lay their eggs.

Researchers with the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project need your help keeping an eye on these critters during all stages of development from now through September!

Since Monarch larvae feed only on milkweed, accessible, abundant milkweed is critically important for the survival of this butterfly species. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project needs your help to keep an eye on local patches of milkweed, and to count monarch eggs and larvae, and assess milkweed density. Whether you have time to send in observations once a week, or anecdotally as you come across Monarchs, they want your data! Sign up online, and send in your sightings today!

To ensure that citizen scientists collect data in a standardized way, periodic training sessions are held. Looks like there are some coming up in later in May!

For science teachers who would like to incorporate ecology into their classroom, check out the Monarchs in the Classroom summer workshops.

For those of you who are impatient, check out this time-lapse video of the process, first from caterpillar to chrysalis and then from chrysalis to butterfly.

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