Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Saving the Majestic Redwoods With Citizen Science

By October 15th, 2015 at 8:12 am | Comment

California redwoods at Humboldt State Park (Image Credit: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr)

California redwoods at Humboldt State Park (Image Credit: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr)

Citizen scientists collect data to find out how climate change impacts redwoods

by Kristin Butler

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

Anyone who’s ever been in a redwood forest knows the sacred experience Steinbeck described in his famous book. Even my dog Kia, on her first hike along the hooded trails of Sanborn Park near our home, bowed uncertainly at the hush of that forest’s redwoods and gazed with wonder at its canopied sky. While photos may fail to replicate the stature of these magnificent trees, they can help conservationists protect them.

Five years ago, a nonprofit in San Francisco called Save the Redwoods League (which buys, protects, and restores redwood habitat) started a citizen science projected called Redwood Watch. Volunteers in the project take photos of redwoods using an app called iNaturalist and the data they collect is helping conservationists better understand redwood distribution and take strategic measures to protect these iconic trees.

“You’d think we’d know where every redwood tree is, but we don’t,” said Deborah Zierten, Education and Interpretation Manager for the Save the Redwoods League. “This projects helps us refine our maps.” The Save the Redwoods League, which is heading into its centennial anniversary soon, will use the data from Redwood Watch to create restoration plans for the organization’s next 100 years, Zierten said.

In particular, the organization is interested in understanding how climate change may be impacting redwoods and their ecosystems and how to help the trees adapt and survive, she said. In California, Redwoods grow within a narrow 450-mile strip that hugs the coast from Big Sur to just over the Oregon border. In the winter months, the trees rely on rainfall and in summer they get the water they need by absorbing coastal fog through their needles and roots, Zierten said. This could make them vulnerable to drought and temperature changes.

Interestingly, redwoods are one of the best protections the planet has against climate change.

Old growth redwoods (trees that are over 200 years old and that survived the gold rush of logging) can take in three to five times more carbon from the atmosphere than any other force on the planet, Zierten said, making them one of the best carbon sinks. Their high branches are so dense, intertwined, and coated with decomposing needles that new trees actually take root and grow on them high above the ground. Of the original coastal redwood range, only about 5% of the old growth forest is left. In addition, 26% of redwood timberland habitat (forests that have been logged and replanted) has been lost to roads and other development.

“One of our goals is to make sure the remaining forests remain protected,” she said, against development, fire, invasive species, and other threats. The Save the Redwoods League encourages volunteers to not only photograph redwoods, but to also photograph the plants and animals that rely on old growth and newer timberland redwood forest ecosystems. These include threatened species such as the Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet; Black Bears and Pacific Salmon; the Pacific Fisher; the Marten; and plants like Huckleberry and many types of lichen.

Volunteers have already collected more than 2,000 observations and the organization plans to continue the project well into the future to preserve these awesome, silent “ambassadors from another time.”

Kristin Butler is a Bay Area journalist and Outreach and Communications Director for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

The Search for Zombie Crabs: The 2015 Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project

By September 2nd, 2015 at 6:00 am | Comment

This is a guest post by Monaca Noble, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Marina Invasions Laboratory. For the last 10 years, Ms. Noble has worked on issues related to the transport of marine species in ballast water and the introduced parasite Loxothylacus panopaei.
Some young volunteers help measure fish and eels. Photo by Monaca Noble.

Some young volunteers help measure fish and eels. Photo by Monaca Noble.

This June, 49 enthusiastic volunteers came out to search for zombie crabs in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Together they searched through shells from 52 crab collectors distributed throughout the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries. Volunteers found thousands of White-fingered Mud Crabs (Rhithropanopeus harrisii), hundreds of fish (Naked Gobies, American Eels, and others), and several parasitized zombie crabs at our site on Broomes Island, MD.

What are zombie crabs? Zombie crabs are mud crabs that have been parasitized with the introduced parasitic barnacle, Loxothylacus panopaei (Loxo for short). Loxo is a parasite native to the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of Florida. It parasitizes at least nine species of mud crabs (xanthid crabs) throughout this range. Read the rest of this entry »

Volunteers needed to test drive Cancer Research UK’s new analysis mechanic.

By August 8th, 2015 at 1:23 am | Comment 1

Source: Cancer Research UK

Source: Cancer Research UK

Calling volunteers! Cancer Research UK has a new project called The Citizen Science Trailblazer Project. The goal is to develop an app that improves how users analyze cancer pathology data. Volunteers to help test the prototype.

The Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science team is committed to finding innovative ways to accelerate research by crowdsourcing. Already, the team has three web-based projects up and running. Their new project channels the success of their earliest app Cell Slider. Cell Slider asked participants to identify cancer cells from healthy cells. The team found the public was able to identify cancer cells with a promising degree of accuracy. Now they are developing a new analysis mechanic which will allow for even greater levels of accuracy.

Early beta testing by pathologists and volunteers showed promising levels of agreement. The final iteration of the new mechanic will be ready for testing by volunteers in early August. Testing involves looking for cancer cells in tissue slides rendered into images on an online platform. Each image is divided into 12 sections, and testers click on regions they suspect contains cancerous cells. The team needs at least 30 volunteers to help with this final round of testing.

Once finished, the analysis mechanic will be made available either as a web-based app or a mobile game. This is a unique opportunity for volunteers to not only learn about cancer but to be directly involved in project development. Register to volunteer by emailing your full name to

Check out their other games and apps: Reverse the Odds and Play to Cure: Genes in Space.


DIYBio and Open Science Changed My Life (And Could Change Yours)

By June 10th, 2015 at 1:21 am | Comment

Milo Toor, a software engineer learns to sequence DNA at Counter Culture Labs. Source: Counter Culture Labs

Counter Culture Labs belongs to a network of community labs in which professional and amateur scientists come together to pursue authentic scientific research. Source: Counter Culture Labs.

Milo Toor, a software engineer writes about his experience with DIYBio and Counter Culture Labs. You can find more information about Counter Culture Labs and search for other DIYBio projects on the SciStarter citizen science project database. Counter Culture Labs is a 100% volunteer-run, membership funded organization, and is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, funds from which will be used to help support infrastructure and grow their collection of science toys. Help keep science accessible by donating!


I have two families. There’s the one with two parents and two sisters, with whom I share DNA and have Thanksgiving dinner. And then there’s the one with several dozen science fanatics, with whom I design DNA and craft vegan cheese to one day accompany that turkey. I would like to share my experience with the latter of these beloved families, Counter Culture Labs.

Located within Oakland’s Omni Commons, Counter Culture Labs (CCL) is both a physical space and a community. CCL is a self-supervised playground for science enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, a breeding ground for curiosity, and a proud part of the burgeoning global DIY Biology community. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrate World Oceans Day with Citizen Science

By June 5th, 2015 at 4:24 am | Comment

Photo; USFWS

On June 8th, people across the world will celebrate World Oceans Day, a day set aside to honor and protect our oceans.

To help you participate in World Oceans Day, we’ve put together a list of 7 ocean-based citizen science projects that need your help.

We are partnering with The TerraMar Project to share SciStarter’s “ocean and water” projects with their global community to transform the way we think about the ocean and the high seas.

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


Read the rest of this entry »