Archive for the ‘Biology’ 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.
From moon monitoring to stargazing to salamander sleuthing, SciStarter brings you citizen science projects you can do in the dark.
GLOBE at Night
Within a couple of generations in the U.S., only the national parks will have dark enough skies to see the Milky Way. Light pollution disrupts the habits of animals and wastes energy and money.Join this international star-hunting program to “see the light!” Get started!
Loss of the Night
How many stars can you see where you live? The Loss of the Night App (available for Android devices) challenges citizen scientists to identify as many stars as they can in order to measure light pollution. Get started!
Dark Sky Meter
The Dark Sky Meter (available for iPhones) allows citizen scientists to contribute to a global map of nighttime light pollution. The map is also a great help for (amateur) astronomers looking for dark skies. Get started!
Lunar Impact Monitoring
NASA needs your help to monitor the rates and sizes of large meteoroids striking the moon’s dark side. This data will help engineers design lunar spacecraft, habitats, vehicles, and extra-vehicular activity suits to protect human explorers from the stresses of the lunar environment. Get started!
Salamander Crossing Brigades
Serve as a Salamander Crossing Guard at amphibian road crossings throughout the Monadnock Region. Volunteers count migrating amphibians and safely usher the animals across roads during one or more “Big Nights.” Get started!
Want to bring citizen science into the classroom? Check out our Educators Page to learn more about how to integrate projects into your curriculum.
SciStarter and Azavea (with support from Sloan Foundation) spent the last year investigating developments in software, hardware, and data processing capability for citizen science. Here’s what we found.
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Public Lab’s DIY spectrometry kit makes it possible for citizen scientists to do their own spectrometric analysis at home.
Come to your senses! SciStarter has curated a list of citizen science projects for all five senses.
Spectrometry. Listen to yourself say it out loud. Admit it. It sounds cool just to say “spectrometry.”(Whoa you just did it again!) As fans of Star Trek or Star Wars will attest to, spectrometers are must-have instruments in the scientific arsenal. I’m happy to let you know, however, that the use of a spectrometer (a.k.a ‘spec’) is not limited to fictional, futuristic worlds. In fact, from discovering new chemical elements to measuring DNA, spectrometry is a technique that’s dipped its toes in almost every field of research.
What’s all the fuss about a spectrometer?
Before I talk to you about a spectrometer, let me get into a little bit about the properties of light. You might know that objects appear a certain color because they absorb certain wavelengths of light while reflecting others. For example, leaves appear green because they absorb other colors except green. So if you took some leaf extract in a glass tube and passed light through it on one side, the light that comes out of the other side will have lots of green and little of the other colors (because they were absorbed by the leaf extract).
Put on your scientist hat (or a lab coat) and think about that for a moment. You’ll probably say, “Hey! If I can figure out what specific mix of colors a known substance is made of then I can use that to find out what an unknown substance is made of!” And put simply, that’s what a spec does. It’s an instrument that uses light to determine what a substance is made of.
A spec identifies the specific mix of colors that is absorbed by a sample producing what is known as an ‘absorption spectra‘ which is characteristic of that sample. Think of it like a fingerprint for every material. To do this accurately, the spec needs something that can effectively split light into its constituent colors. One option is to use a prism, which you’ve probably seen at some point. Another way is to use a ‘diffraction grating’ which is a surface with many small parallel lines that can also do the same job of splitting light.
One cool everyday object that acts as a diffraction grating is a CD or DVD. The tiny grooves on the disc act like a grating and split white light giving off the rainbow of colors that you see on its back side. The Public Lab DIY spec uses a DVD as a diffraction grating. The image below describes how a simple DIY spec works. And that’s the Cliffs Notes version. Public Lab’s spectrometer curriculum has lots more detail!
The Public Lab DIY Spectrometer
Our friends over at Public Lab have made it possible for you to do your own spectrometric analysis at home! When it started, the goal of the project was to create a cheap, do-it-yourself spectrometer that anybody could use to analyze materials and contaminants like oil spills and tar residues in urban waterways. In 2012, the team came up with an idea for a spec and crowd-funded it on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter project was a massive success and now Public Lab is selling the DIY desktop kit for $40 in its online store. However, if you prefer to build it from the materials you have at home, they have a great instruction manual for how to make it yourself.
They have also made a smartphone compatible Foldable Mini Spectrometer ($10 in the store) that you can carry around (and show off!). To be able to actually use the spec, the team at PublicLab built an open source software called Spectral Workbench that runs within your browser to help you record and analyze the data you collect. Whether you buy the kit or build it yourself, the Public Lab community has a wiki style page that is a great information resource.
To make it easier to get started, I’ve put together a plan to get you started with making and using your shiny new instrument:
Images: PublicLab.org, Wikipedia
Arvind Sureh graduated with his MS in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn or at his Website.
The Genetics of Taste citizen science project from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science set out to understand the link between genetics and TAS2R38 gene, responsible for the “bitter” taste receptor.
Come to your senses! SciStarter has curated a list of citizen science projects for all five senses.
Guest post by Michelle Murphy-Niedziela.
Don’t like brussels sprouts? Hate IPA beers? Prefer your cream with a bit of coffee? You might be a supertaster. So, what’s your super power as a supertaster?
Being a supertaster means that you have an increased taste sensitivity, particularly for bitter foods, due to the presence of the TAS2R38 gene and an increased number of fungiform papillae (or taste buds). Those taste buds have receptors that sense sweet, salty, bitter and sour. TAS2R38 is the gene responsible for a certain type of bitter taste receptor, sensitive to the bitter chemicals PROP and PTC. So more taste buds + more bitter receptors = SUPERTASTER!
The citizen science efforts from the community-based Genetics of Taste Lab at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, led by curator Dr. Nicole Garneau, set out to replicate the academic data and prove that non-scientists can do genetics work. By recruiting members of the community to participate, they collected 3000 samples, analyzed for age, gender and genetics.
After a rocky start while figuring out and learning the techniques, they completed the study in early August 2013 with 1800 genetic samples and 500 tongue photographs. While they weren’t able to replicate all the findings found in academic labs (they did find differences in TAS2R38 expression in males versus females as well as age differences), they were not able to find a connection between the number of taste buds and genetics.
Separate from Garneau’s study, scientists studying taste genetics have found that supertasters may have better control of their appetite and may avoid sweet and fatty foods leading to better health and a less occurrence of metabolic syndrome and obesity (Shafaie et al., 2013; Turner-McGrievy et al., 2013). Further, supertaster patients are less likely to need surgical intervention for chronic rhinosinusitis (Adappa et al., 2013). Women are more likely to be supertasters, 35% of women and 15% of men (Bartoshuk et al., 1994). It turns out, about 25% of people are supertasters; 25% are non-tasters; and the other 50% are somewhere in the middle (medium tasters carry only one copy of the TAS2R38 gene, so fewer of those special bitter receptors and fewer taste buds than supertasters). But have no fear, being a supertaster or nontaster represents normal variation in the human population like eye or hair color.
Garneau and her team will be presenting their work at the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) and have even submitted their work for publication in the academic journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Want to find out if you are a taster or a non taster? Here are two more fun things you can do at home.
1. Count your taste buds – Dye your tongue using blue food coloring and count the number of bumps on your tongue, compare with your friends!
2. Taste test at home – Order PTC or PROP taste strips online (can be found on Amazon); place them on your tongue; and tell us the results! If you taste nothing, then you are a non-taster. If you taste bitter, then you are a taster!
Image: The Creative Panic
Dr. Michelle Murphy Niedziela is a behavioral neuroscience expert in neuropsychology, psychology and consumer science with a focus on flavor and fragrance technologies. Michelle obtained a PhD and masters in neuroscience and biopsychology from Purdue University and a BS in psychology from Florida State University. In the past she’s worked at Johnson & Johnson, Mars Chocolate and is now a neuromarketing Scientific Director at HCD Research. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys cooking, blogging and traveling. Follow her on Twitter @nerdoscientism and her blog.