Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ Category

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Helps Citizen Scientists Build Connections to Nature

By April 1st, 2015 at 5:00 am | Comment

Photo: Wendy Caldwell, MLMP

Editors Note: This post by SciStarter contributor Eva Lewandowski describes her experiences with citizen scientists from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which was featured in our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!

What do citizen scientists gain when they collect data for a research study? What do they learn, and how does it change them? These are some of the questions that I try to answer in the course of my PhD research. As a graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab, I have an up-close view of our lab’s citizen science project, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP), which has given me an excellent opportunity to find out how citizen science affects the citizen scientists themselves.  Over the past few years I’ve spent a great deal of time meeting, writing about, and studying our MLMP volunteers. More often than not, what strikes me about these interactions is the volunteers’ familiarity with and connection to their monitoring sites.

At the MLMP, we study how the population of monarch butterflies varies in space and time; given the dramatic decline in monarch numbers over the past decade, it’s more important than ever that we understand the factors impacting the monarch population. Each fall, monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the California coast to overwinter, while the monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains travel thousands of miles to Mexico, where they spend the winter.  In the spring, the monarchs in Mexico begin to make their way north throughout the United States and Canada, going through several generations before they reach their northern-most destinations. Once there, they continue to reproduce until it is time for a new generation to fly south the Mexico.

Throughout the breeding season, MLMP volunteers across North America monitor milkweed patches weekly for monarch eggs and larvae. Volunteers choose their own sites, and the only requirement is that it has milkweed; monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed, so it must be present if you hope to find monarch eggs or caterpillars. Milkweed isn’t as prevalent as it once was, but it can still be found in gardens, parks, pastures, and roadways, so volunteers don’t usually have trouble finding a patch to observe; those that do can plant their own milkweed. In addition to counting the number of eggs and larvae that they see, volunteers also provide data on the number and types of milkweed and flowering plants at their site.

photo of MLMP volunteer

Because MLMP volunteers monitor the same milkweed patch week after week, and often year after year, they are usually extremely familiar with their site. Most can tell you off the top of their heads what species of milkweed and nectar plants they have, as well as when they come up and when they bloom; many also know which plants are the monarchs’ favorites and which are preferred by other insects.

And because monitoring for monarch eggs and larvae involves carefully examining the leaves of milkweed plants, volunteers encounter a lot more than just monarchs on their milkweed plants. From soldier bugs to milkweed beetles to aphids, MLMP volunteers are familiar with a wide variety of insects that make their home on or around milkweed. Many MLMP volunteers can use the field guide Milkweed, Monarchs and More, coauthored by MLMP Director Dr. Karen Oberhauser, to identify and learn about the flora and fauna commonly found in milkweed patches.

The book focuses mainly on plants, insects, and arachnids, but our volunteers also enjoy observing birds, amphibians, and mammals while collecting data. Participants often snap a picture of the interesting animals they see in their plots to contribute to the MLMP Photo Gallery, such as when long-time MLMP volunteer Jan Sharp found herself “eye to eye” with a tree frog perched on her milkweed, or when Diane Rock stumbled across a black bear in her milkweed patch.

Observing and learning about the plants, animals, and overall ecosystem of their monitoring site is one of the best parts about being an MLMP volunteer, but our volunteers also love that they can share that experience with others. Many of our participants monitor with children, usually their own or their grandchildren, which gives them a chance to connect young people to nature. We even have a few second-generation MLMP volunteers, people who started monitoring with their parents and now monitor their own site or have taken over the original site.

MLMP is so much more than just collecting data on monarch abundance. It’s an opportunity to get outside, to learn about a piece of land and everything that lives on it, and to share that connection with others. We’re always in need of more volunteers; if you’re looking for a chance to get outside and connect with nature, while making a meaningful contribution to science and conservation at the same time, join the MLMP!

Photo: Wendy Caldwell (larva), Gail Gilliland (volunteer monitoring)

Eva Lewandowski is a PhD candidate in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota. She is part of the Monarch Lab, where she studies citizen science and conservation education.

Is Climate Change Causing the Seasons to Change? Citizen Scientists in the UK Help Find Out with Nature’s Calendar

By March 31st, 2015 at 5:00 am | Comment

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

Interested in more spring themed citizen science projects? Check out the ones the SciStarter team has handpicked for you here! Or use SciStarter’s project finder to find one that piques your curiosity!

In 1998 Tim Sparks, a research biologist at Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridge started a pilot project designed to record the first blush of spring. Sparks saw the importance of continuous phenology records—a record of when plants start to bud and flower, and wanted to revive a phenology network in the UK. Shortly thereafter The Woodland Trust (the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity) joined forces with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to promote the scheme to a wider audience, which is how the citizen science project Nature’s Calendar was born. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature’s Notebook: Through the Eyes of a Citizen Scientist

By March 30th, 2015 at 5:00 am | Comment

Bobcat in Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico.  Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

Bobcat in Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico. Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the the project, Nature’s Notebook featured on our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Nature’s Notebook is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!

Here in the Chihuahuan Desert of southwestern New Mexico, I am intimate now with three trees in my backyard: a box elder (Acer negundo), a desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), and a honey mesquite (Prosopsis glandulosa). I know when these plants become luminous with the green of new leaves, when they flower, when their flowers turn to fruit, and when their fruit falls. I also have a warm relationship with a male four-winged saltbush (Atriplex canescens), having rubbed his yellow pollen sensuously between my fingers, and with a female four-winged saltbush, admiring her extravagant and seasonal cloak of papery seeds. Perhaps my greatest new friend, however, is a soaptree yucca (Yucca elata), whose single stalk grows up quickly and prominently in late spring, its buds producing a mass of scented creamy-white flowers—like a six-foot-high candle glowing in the dusk. Read the rest of this entry »

Spring is the Season for Citizen Science

By March 25th, 2015 at 12:27 am | Comment

Photo: NPS

Photo: NPS

Here are six projects in need of your help as you walk the dog, work in your garden, clean the gutters, or do spring cleaning.

And check out these  new citizen science projects just added to the Project Finder on SciStarter.

Read the rest of this entry »

White House Recognizes Importance of Citizen Science

By March 23rd, 2015 at 10:50 am | Comment

“Citizen Science” movement gaining ground through organizations including SciStarter


PHILADELPHIA, Penn. (March 23, 2015) – Citizen science engages the public in important research, and SciStarter is leading the way for scientists, enthusiasts and students to connect and collaborate on research. Even as President Obama recognizes the intelligence and effort of students at the White House Science Fair, the White House itself is joining and supporting the citizen science movement.

The White House will showcase that anyone can participate in citizen science by committing to install a new rain gauge in the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden, becoming part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) citizen science network of over 20,000 active participants who serve as the largest source of daily precipitation data in the United States.

“We’re seeing tremendous increases in citizen science participation among both youth and adults,” said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter and a professor at Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society.  “Citizen science has been proven to advance all areas of serious research and I’m thrilled to attend the White House Science Fair this morning where the emphasis is on education and the future; a future that will be shaped by remarkable teens including  Tiye Garret-Mills, 17, from Colorado who will be honored at the White House event this morning for developing a low cost method to identify leaves. With global citizen science projects underway to identify tree species, this may become a crucial tool. Our goal at SciStarter is to empower the public by connecting them to meaningful opportunities to engage in STEM, while providing access to the tools and resources that will enhance their experience and support their valuable contributions.”

To that end, SciStarter is joining forces with Public Lab as part of a national effort to create a new Citizen Science Tool lending library and store to enable more than 50,000 people the opportunity to participate in scientific inquiry. This library and store will broaden the scope of tools available to schools and the general public for research.  SciStarter and Public Lab are working in collaboration with the Museum of Science Boston and Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society.

Quality research is important, so SciStarter is working with STEM curriculum developers and educators from the Broward County, FL School District (the 6th largest in the country), educators from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, and a distributed network of educators to align 500 citizen science projects featured on SciStarter, with Science and Engineering Practices.  The projects will be searchable by their Practice, making it easier for educators to find the projects most suitable for their environment.

This focus on exemplary practices is a key part of SciStarter’s leadership in the newly-formed Citizen Science Association (CSA).  SciStarter and the CSA are working together to align 500 citizen science projects with Science and Engineering Practices.   The CSA will highlight exemplary practices and support the integration of STEM learning objectives within citizen science projects. To further promote integration of citizen science with STEM learning, the CSA will create a way to nominate outstanding examples of projects or resources that support citizen science for STEM learning. Exemplar projects will be highlighted on both the Citizen Science Association website and SciStarter. With support from the National Science Foundation, the CSA is being shaped by the input of over 60 Association members.

 The White House called attention to these important SciStarter citizen science initiatives through the White House Science Fair Fact Sheet distributed today.


About SciStarter

SciStarter aims to enable people to contribute to science through informal recreational activities and formal research efforts. The web site creates a shared space where scientists can connect with citizens interested in working on or learning about joint research projects. SciStarter currently features 1,000 searchable citizen science projects and recruits participants through partnerships with Discover Magazine, the National Science Teachers Association, Public Library of Science, WHYY/NPR, Pop Warner Youth Scholars, and more.



Categories: Citizen Science