Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category
Count and protect migrating amphibians. Help salamanders cross the road at night with the Salamander Crossing Brigades.
Citizen science after hours…here are some citizen science projects you can do at night.
Springtime means that love is in the air. Bees are buzzing, birds are chirping, animals are mating–and salamanders want to do it too. That is, if they can reach their breeding grounds safely. Salamanders, known for their permeable skin and their capacity to regenerate limbs, make use of rainy spring nights to trek from their underground forest habitats to nearby ephemeral pools to lay eggs. In their travels, salamanders often have to cross roads, and yet so far, they don’t have crosswalks.
To help ensure salamanders’ safe passage to their breeding grounds, the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory (AVEO), the citizen science arm of the Harris Center for Conservation Education in New Hampshire, trains citizen scientist volunteers as crossing guards for the northeast’s amphibians every spring. Salamander migrations are highly threatened by automobile traffic- rates of deaths on roadways are predicted to be high enough to lead to local extinction of spotted salamanders in the next 25 years according to a study published in Wetlands Ecology and Management. Citizen scientist volunteers are trained to safely usher amphibians across roads and enumerate the species that they see. Through efforts over the last six years, AVEO’s collaboration with citizen scientists has prevented over 15,000 amphibians from being victims of roadkill.
In what AVEO calls, “Big Nights” as part of the Salamander Crossing Brigades project (official site), citizen scientist volunteers work collectively at crossing brigades for wood frogs, spring peepers, and salamanders, including the protected Jefferson and blue-spotted salamander species. Hundreds to thousands of amphibians can cross in one night depending on temperature and precipitation conditions. AVEO studies snow melt and weather patterns, among other variables, to predict nights of maximal amphibian movement on which they schedule their crossing brigades. Salamanders generally prefer rainy nights when temperatures rise above 40, but unpredictabilities arise making designating Big Nights the most challenging, yet critical, aspect of the project. This year AVEO anticipates that early to mid-April will be salamander crossing season this year in southern New Hampshire.
View Amphibian Tracker 2014 in a larger map
AVEO also trains citizen scientists to help protect the salamanders of New Hampshire by identifying new road areas which salamanders traverse to reach their breeding grounds. “We add new crossings to our map every year, all based on the knowledge of our citizen science network. Our volunteers are essential. We simply wouldn’t have a Salamander Crossing Brigade program without them,” says Brett Amy Thelen, science director for the Harris Center for Conservation Education. According to Thelen, one of the project’s biggest accomplishments was inciting the City of Keene, NH to purchase a parcel of conservation land encompassing multiple amphibian crossing sites identified by citizen scientists. “The land was originally slated for development, and the City’s decision to purchase it was based in large part on the data collected by our volunteers, which demonstrated that the site was an important migratory amphibian corridor in Keene.”
AVEO leads another citizen science project, the Vernal Pool Project, where citizen scientists help locate new vernal pools, the ephemeral breeding grounds of salamanders and other amphibians. Breeding in permanent bodies of water is hindered by resident fish populations which prey on salamander eggs. As a result, the transience of vernal pools provides salamanders with a safe breeding location that they can return to each spring. The Vernal Pool Project has identified 130 vernal pools in southwestern New Hampshire, enabling AVEO to implement forestry practices designed to protect the pools from the potential negative effects of timber harvests. Because vernal pools are generally within 1000 feet of salamanders’ normal habitats, protecting the surrounding forest areas is also important for salamander conservation.
Want to participate in a night of helping hundreds of colorful and noisy critters get to the other side? Salamander Crossing Brigade volunteer training sessions will take place on the evening of Thursday, March 13 in Keene, NH and the morning of Saturday March 29 in Hancock, NH. To find out more about salamander migrations, you can check out University of Connecticut Professor Mark Urban’s “amphibian tracker” on his lab website.
Image: Courtesy of Brett Amy Thelen (top), Urban Lab (map)
Sheetal R. Modi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University where she studies how bacteria develop and spread antibiotic resistance. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and when she’s not growing her bacterial cultures (and repeatedly killing them), she enjoys science communication and being outside.
This week on The Pulse and SciStarter’s segment about citizen science, producer Kimberly Haas tags along with local birdwatcher Pat Evans as she studies migratory bird patterns and fluxes in bird populations from New Jersey.
The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place from February 14th to 17th this year, so get started and let us know how many birds you count in the comments! Or “tweet us” (get it?) at @SciStarter when you participate!
Listen here to learn more about how this all contributes to a larger picture! Here’s an excerpt from WHYY’s related blog post:
“All you have to do is bird, either one of the four days or all four days, a minimum of 15 minutes,” [Stephen Saffier] said. “Just look out your back window, count the birds that are there in your yard. You can go to parks, you can go to schoolyards. And you tally that information on a piece of paper and then you submit it online and it all gets bundled up into this data source for Cornell and Audubon.
Recently, Science Matters, a multi-platform initiative to engage the public in STEM media, created a how-to video for those interested in participating in the GBBC this year. Their intern Margaret Carmel gives us a walkthrough.
Here’s where you can help. If you’re a citizen science researcher, project manager, or participant in the PA, NJ, or DE areas, we want to hear from you! If you have an interesting story to share about a citizen science project or experience, let us know. Send your stories for consideration to Lily@SciStarter.com.
WHYY (90.9 FM in Philly) on-air schedule:
6-9 a.m. – Morning Edition
9-10 a.m. – The Pulse
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Radio Times
10 a.m. following Sunday – The Pulse (rebroadcast)
Is your friend or family member an ornithologist, a conservationist, or a general appreciator of the environment? How about a Baltimore Orioles or Philadelphia Eagles fan? Stanford Cardinal? Consider adopting a bird through Audubon’s gift program! (Orioles, eagles, and cardinals among a number of other birds are all available for adoption). For $30, through the adoption program, the recipient will be given a personalized card showcasing their adoption, a year subscription the Audubon magazine, and a year of membership to the National Audubon Society. Your donation will support Audubon’s programs aimed toward conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for birds and other wildlife.
The adoption program contributes to Audubon’s efforts to protect flight paths that birds use during migration, or flyways, and other important bird areas around the world. Through Audubon’s work with local chapters, conservation partners, and citizen scientists, the organization has identified over 370 million acres (more land than California and Texas combined) in the U.S. for active monitoring and restoration to ensure birds safe passage and healthy breeding. A case in point is the Atlantic flyway, which is home to roughly 150 important bird areas prioritized by Audubon. Spanning diverse ecosystems all the way from Maine to Florida, the Atlantic flyway is a passageway for over 500 different species, totaling millions of individual birds. One of the main challenges posed to the birds that depend on this flyway for habitation and migration is the populous nature of the region – although the Atlantic flyway covers a tenth of the nation’s landmass, it is inhabited by one third of the nation’s people. Urban development, climate change and overfishing have adversely affected the avian community and have rendered 40% of the resident species in need of conservation. Sadly, some species’ populations have decreased by as much as half in recent years.
This year, you can choose to adopt the Atlantic puffin, a protected bird in the Atlantic flyway and a great choice for the holiday season. Donations through the adoption program have supported Project Puffin which has restored puffins to their historic nesting habitat in the Gulf of Maine. In 1973, just two small colonies of puffins existed in Maine. Over years of transplanting puffins from colonies in Newfoundland and extensive monitoring and habitat sustainment by ecologists, there are now over 1,000 puffins in Maine. These birds, with their unique beak coloring, can fly up to 55 miles per hour (which is faster than a racehorse can run) and can dive 200 feet underwater. Puffins usually mate for life and return to their home burrowing grounds to breed, a critical factor for the success of the repopulation of the Maine site. In spite of the project’s productive results, more pufflings and adult birds died last year than in all previous years of the the project. Biologists suspect that recent increases in temperature of the Atlantic Ocean have contributed to changing fish populations that puffins prey on, affecting the viability of this Atlantic flyway resident. Audubon employs a combination of supporting science and education and habitat conservation to aid in the recovery of the Atlantic puffin population.
Sheetal Modi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University where she studies how bacteria develop and spread antibiotic resistance. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and when she’s not growing her bacterial cultures (and repeatedly killing them), she enjoys science communication and being outside.
If you’re looking for more projects for the holiday season, we’ve got 12 Days of Citizen Science for you!
“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” birds! Partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings (pheasants), geese and swans inhabit this festival folk classic celebrating food and merriment. Seabirds, cousins of our dinner table counterparts, enjoy a winter migration to good eats and family too. Yet changes in climate and their relationship with man are driving population declines. Can citizen scientists help conserve our feathered friends?
The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS), in association with the Seattle Audubon Society, is enlisting citizen scientists to catalog the diversity of coastal birds along three square miles of Puget Sound saltwater habitat.
During seabird’s annual migrations, near shore saltwater habitats, such as the Puget Sound, provide valuable food and mating sites. Nearly all species of coastal birds including geese, ducks, swans, loons, grebes, cormorants, gulls, terns and alcids have experienced population declines since the late 1970s due to ecosystem changes caused by human development. Stopping to watch these graceful birds on your way to Grandma’s house can provide important population clues for local scientists.
Now in its sixth season, PSSS is the only land-based study of seabirds in the central and south Puget Sound. (Previous studies relied on aerial and marine data.) “PSSS is a scalable program that engages citizen scientists to collect significant data on valuable environmental indicators” explains Adam Sedgley, former science manager of the Seattle Audubon Society.
On the first Saturday of each month from October to April, citizen scientists are paired with experienced bird watchers and seabird scientists to identify all species of wintering coastal seabirds. Armed with your keen powers of observation, binoculars, compass and rulers; teams survey one of 82 sites along the Puget Sound using a method known as distance sampling. Directly counting each bird can be a challenge to new birders – species are hard to see and identify at a distance, poor weather conditions obscure views, and birds are often underwater. In distance sampling, citizen scientists simply line up a ruler with the horizon then measure the distance to the each bird in millimeters. Record the birds you’ve seen, their distance from the horizon, and compass bearing on PSSS’s interactive website. Using this data, scientists accurately estimate population size and health creating a snapshot of seabird natural history for more than 2400 acres of Puget Sound. This snapshot helps to inform conservation and oil spill clean up efforts.
Being a birder has never been easier. PSSS and the Seattle Audubon Society have developed excellent resources for citizen scientists including the stunning photographs by local photographer David Gluckman and an interactive website with information on all species of seabirds found in the Puget Sound region as well as their habitat and life histories. They also have an interactive map for you to explore each of the survey sites based on the most birds observed or most diverse areas.
Why not take a stop while you’re venturing “over the river and through the woods” this holiday season to watch the birdies?
Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.
Tracking the Invasive Chinese Mitten Crab through the Chinese Mitten Crab Watch
When you go outside on a cold and snowy day you put on a coat and mittens to keep you warm, but did you know that there’s a type of crab that actually wears mittens all year round? It’s called the Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis). These crabs are yellowish brown and have six walking legs and two claws that are covered in furry fuzz (the male’s claws are especially fuzzy). Mitten crabs range in size from 5-10 cm across the top shell and they have 4 lateral spines on each side of the shell. Smithsonian scientists are worried about these crabs because they have become invasive from Asia to North America and Europe. In China these crabs are considered a delicacy. It is thought that they first came to the US either in the ballast water of ships (water in the hull of a ship that keeps it upright) coming from Asia or possibly in the food trade.
So, what’s the big deal about little crabs with mittens?
The big deal behind mitten crabs is that they can have some really negative impacts on the ecology of fresh water and marine ecosystems. These types of crabs are called catadromous (cat-ad-ra-mus), which means that during their juvenile years they live in fresh water and in their adult years they move to salty or brackish waters; this is a double-whammy for those trying to protect wetlands and waterways. Mitten crabs also tend to move en-masse (in large groups) when they travel from fresh to salt water. This movement can clog fishing nets, pipes, and water intake systems.
Mitten crabs are omnivorous feeders and they’ll eat just about anything. If they invade non-native waters they have the ability to effect food webs by eating aquatic plants, detritus, fish, fish eggs, micro and marcro invertebrates, algae, and even other crabs. By eating the food of native species fish, crabs, and invertebrates these mitten wielding arthropods have the ability to unbalance entire food webs. Another big issue is that when the crabs move into creeks and rivers they burrow into the sides of the waterways. This causes accelerated erosion and weakening of levees and flood control efforts. Land managers in Germany have already had to deal with the repercussions of mitten crab destabilization of dams and waterways. As if all this wasn’t enough, the mitten crabs can also carry a version of the Oriental lung fluke, which can be passed on to humans that eat them.
Where are they, and what can we do?
Most of the early sightings of mitten crabs have been in waterways along the West Coast of North America, in California and the San Francisco Bay Area (in the 1980’s). They have recently been found in the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore Maryland. Researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and other groups from around the US are trying to track the abundance and distribution of this invader. You can help by joining the Mitten Crab Watch.
Steps to take if you find a mitten crab-
- Do not throw it back! Keep it contained and away from any body of water.
- Take close up photos of the crab a ruler in the picture if possible.
- Note the precise location (long/lat) the crab was found, date, and time.
- Freeze the animal and put it on ice in a freezer or cooler.
- Report the mitten crab sighting by submitting all this information and photos to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu. Researchers will get back to you immediately.
If you have questions you can always call the Mitten Crab Hotline (443) 482.2222.
You can also upload your sightings on the Citizen Science website Project Noah by joining the Mitten Crab Watch mission. Scientists need the power of crowd sourcing and citizen science to watch out for these invaders. You can help by joining the effort.