Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category
A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.
Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment is rudimentary: a jar of grain alcohol poured into a plastic Tupperware with a glowing bar of black light perched on its edge. But this is an effective insect trap. Siemion, and citizen scientists like her, are using these traps in a 240 mile experiment to understand how energy demand and dams on the Colorado River are washing away key insect species.
Identify beached birds and help monitor the health of the coastal ecosystem.
Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.
Do you enjoy long walks on the beach while taking in the surrounding wildlife? Are you concerned about environmental issues and passionate about community projects? Are you ready for commitment?
If so, then you might just be perfect match for COASST. (Did you think this was something else?)
Live in Los Angeles county? Photograph butterflies and moths, and help scientists study climate change.
Interested in more moth and butterfly citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!“Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today, I saw one…” 
In the heat of summer monsoons, butterflies accompany the paddling turtles in the lake outside my window… butterfly? Wait a minute; I remember dragonflies, not butterflies, from childhood. Nightly news reports every evening that our fragile blue marble is undergoing significant changes. Could butterflies and moths help scientists understand how living organisms adapt to climate change?
More than 174,000 species of butterflies and moths, the Lepidoptera, or scaly-winged insects, have been cataloged, making them some of the most successful insects to flutter across our planet. Vital to local ecosystems, butterflies and moths are important food sources and pollinators, only differing in their coloration (bold colors vs. drab monochrome) and diurnal/nocturnal range. Yet, only 236 species of butterfly have been observed in Los Angeles County.The Los Angeles Butterfly Survey, a partnership between the all-volunteer Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, is working with citizen scientists to count and photographically catalogue the butterflies, and moths, found between the urban skyscrapers of southern California.
Becoming a butterfly, or moth, hunter has never been easier. Citizen scientists simply photograph, noting the date, time, and location, of their winged sighting. The photo and observations are then uploaded to the BAMONA website, where experts identify/verify the species before adding the find to their database. The data is used to develop a visual database and life history page for each species including stunning, user-submitted, photographs and maps reflecting recent sightings.
Kelly Lotts, co-founder of BAMONA, notes, “It is very easy for kids to grab cameras and to take photographs of species found where they live or at their school… Kids really enjoy being able to point to their dot on the map, to their actual photograph.”Since its launch in 2011, the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey has become an invaluable tool encouraging city dwellers to become scientists for the day. Over 628,000 butterfly and moth sightings have been recorded across all of North America; 1320 for southern California. Lotts goes on to explain, “We get a lot of data requests from scientists looking at butterflies as indicators of climate change… in 2011 and 2012, in California, there was a sighting of Hyalophora cecropia each year. This is very unusual as the Cecropia is found in the east of the Rocky Mountains.”
Citizen scientists benefit from their involvement as well. At the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, they are mapping local species in order to inform planting in the pollinator garden. New projects are sprouting up including the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. According to Lila Higgins, Manager of Citizen Science for the museum, “Citizen scientist are already getting so much out of their experience. They are thinking like scientists – making predictions about what they are going to find in the coming weeks. Talk about science in action.”
Why not grab a camera and enjoy the summer sun while waiting for a butterfly to flutter by?
References and Resources:
 Image courtesy Tony Maro (BAMONA submission).
 Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
 Image courtesy Wendy Caldwell (Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles).
 Data courtesy BAMONA website.
Dr Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of life science and helping the general public explore their world. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh for research into how antibiotics kill bacteria, was a policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, and is a published photographer. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science. Not content to stay in one place for very long, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, plotting her next epic adventure, or training for the next half marathon.
Save the sablefish (also known as black cod) and help scientists by counting the fish in video clips.
Want more marine-themed citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!
Scientists call it Anoplopoma fimbria, fishers might know it as the sablefish, while some chefs call it the Black Cod. Found hovering just above the muddy North Pacific seabed, you may have enjoyed one down at the Moby Dick restaurant or whatever your favorite seafood restaurant is called. The sablefish—a yummy opportunistic feeder known for its buttery taste has been harvested from US waters since the late 1800s.
In Alaska, heavy foreign fishing depleted the sablefish stocks through the seventies until the US took control of the waters in 1976 and phased out foreign fishing. After that, the fishing season began to shorten and the number of fishers actually increased. When this happens a fishery produces a lot of poor quality fish—the outcome is an unstable stock. In 1995, conservation managers implemented a program that sought to more strictly regulate the Alaska commercial fishery; it set limits for each fisher, but within a longer season. This decreased the harvest of immature fish, which meant those fish had a good chance to reproduce at least once.
Now a citizen science program called Project Digital Fishers needs your help, and it may keep the sablefish on the table at the Moby Dick. It is a project that enlists public support to run a second trial for researchers, and for computer scientists as well. For the latter, an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria has developed an algorithm that can “count” fish. He will use this campaign to ground truth his software. This video on YouTube shows this in action.
As researchers continue to monitor the resource, they hope to inform careful management of the stock. Jodie Walsh, the research coordinator for the Center for Global Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, says, “A research group at the Marine Science Institute (Institut de Ciènces del Mar) in Barcelona, Spain, investigates biological rhythms in various species around the world. By better understanding species behavior they hope to help in marine resource management and provide advice to improve fishing practices. And Carolina Doya, a PhD student working with Dr. Jacopo Aguzzi, uses NEPTUNE Canada cameras to study biological rhythms of fish in Barkley Canyon.” Counting fish in the field of view of the camera, and using specialized statistical tools, will enable her to see if fish movements and/or behavior can be predicted in relation to known natural cycles.
When an experiment returns a broad variety of results, researchers typically have to run the numbers again, which in this instance means they have to review the film footage of a submarine transect once more, while counting the number of Black Cod seen in a specified time. The result will be punched into a formula and extrapolated out for a region or field—which produces an accurate estimate of the number of fish in a population. So now you can contribute to real science—compare apples to apples (or in this case sablefish to sablefish) by counting the sablefish exactly as the research crew is doing in their labs. This will save an enormous amount of time and money, and it will contribute to both computer and environmental research.
You have to create an account, and the controls of the digital interface take a bit of getting used to. After a few awkward attempts, I got the hang of it, had learned to identify the species and was counting for the A team. The website says you only have to count for 15 seconds, but each video clip runs for almost a minute. After those first few attempts I settled down and actually began to anticipate seeing a sablefish—I counted as many as six in a 60 second clip, and sometimes none appeared. To beat the first level you have to complete 10 ‘annotations’ or views, but to advance to the third level you have to complete 24!
Digital Fishers is currently counting sablefish, but Walsh says, “We have also looked at crabs, Mapping Seafloor, Trawling, thornyhead rockfish and deep-sea ecosystems, or sometimes we just show some of the video that has been collected and ‘digital fishers’ annotate many other species in our general campaigns.” Digital fishers hail from Canada, US, Spain, France, Germany, South Africa, Oman, Switzerland, Colombia, Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland, Italy, so anyone can compete. (The sablefish is found in UK waters as well—there it is called the blue cod, bluefish, candlefish or coal cod, and in Canada it’s known as the coalfish, beshow or skil.) The sablefish project will likely run through July.
Top Image: NOAA Photo Library
Bottom Image: Digital Fishers/University of Victoria
Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.
This Saturday June 21st, collect samples from bodies of water to catalog the ocean’s microbial biodiversity.
Want more marine-themed citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!
This Saturday June 21st, citizen scientists will be able to take part in MyOSD (official site) the citizen science component to this year’s Ocean Sampling Day (OSD). The event is organized by Micro B3 (Microbial Biodiversity, Bioinformatics and Biotechnology) a European cross-disciplinary multi-institute collaborative aimed at developing large-scale research efforts to forward marine biodiversity research. On OSD, scientists around the world will collect water samples in an effort to catalog the ocean’s microbial biodiversity. On the same day, citizen scientists will gather environmental and contextual data. Organizers say that this ‘snap shot’ of the Earth’s waters might be the ‘biggest data set in marine research that has been taken on one single day.’
Scientists are interested in marine microbes because of the role they played and continue to play in shaping our global environment. Microbes were critical to the evolution of life on the Earth. “Microbes were the first organisms evolving on Earth. When microbes developed the ability to photosynthesize, they began producing oxygen. This transformed the Earth’s early environment, making it hospitable to life,” explains Julia Schnetzer a graduate student at the Jacobs University and Max Planck Institute and the MyOSD coordinator.
“Today, marine microbes still produce more than fifty percent of the oxygen we need to breathe and consume fifty percent of the world’s carbon dioxide. In addition they are involved in key biological processes in the ocean system such as nitrogen fixation and the carbon pump.” Nitrogen fixation increases the availability of biologically accessible nitrogen by transforming atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium. The ocean’s carbon pump is a biological cycle which removes atmospheric carbon and sequesters it into organic materials deep inside the ocean. Several gigatons of atmospheric carbon are cycled into the oceans each year. “Their participation in these processes make microbes critical in shaping the climate of the planet and thus are essential to the health of our environment.”
OSD will help scientists understand microbe biodiversity and how microbes affect the environment. On the 21st of June, teams of scientists will take water samples at various locations and identify microbial content via DNA sequencing. Marine microbes are particularly challenging to raise in culture, which has hindered their study in the laboratory. However advances in high through-put DNA sequencing technology have made it more practical and cost effective to study marine microbes directly from their natural habitat. In addition to analyzing microbe content, scientists will be taking environmental and contextual data such as water salinity, mineral content, air and water temperature.
“The results from OSD will produce two sets of data especially useful for marine scientists. The data about microbial biodiversity will help us understand which species are present and what they are doing. The environmental parameters will give us an idea on how the microbes influence their environment and how the environment influences them,” says Schnetzer. All the collected data will go into a publicly available open source repository. Researchers and citizens can visit the OSD map to see the locations and the genomic, environmental, and contextual data from the sampled sites. The website provides a helpful tutorial on farming the data.
More areas sampled mean better resolution of our ocean’s picture. OSD organizers need citizen scientists to help fill in the gaps. If you live near a body of water, you can help collect environmental information such as location, time, and temperature. Even if it is just a small nearby stream, OSD organizers still want your data. If you own water sampling devices, or are willing to build your own like a simple Secchi Disk, you will be able to provide additional useful information such as water pH or transparency. Download the free OSD app (Android and iPhone compatible) to make submitting your measurements easier. Don’t have a phone? Just save the data and submit it later online. Find out details about contributing to the project, data gathering instructions and analysis kits here.
Organizers hope that by engaging citizen scientists it will provide a better understanding of the value of our oceans and the need to protect them. “The more citizen scientists support there is for MyOSD the better the event will become and the more emphasis can be placed on the importance of education and outreach in marine science in future OSDs,” says Schnetzer.
So this Saturday, go out, get wet and get some data!
 My OSD-OSD Citizen Science
 National Oceanography Centre – Biological Carbon Pump
Top Image: OSD-Micro B3
Bottom Image: megx
Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.