Archive for the ‘Ecology & Environment’ Category
As monarch butterflies take their annual migratory trip to the west coast in winter, citizen scientists help researchers keep track with the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. Find more migration projects on SciStarter!
Every autumn, the western North American population of monarch butterflies migrates from the lands west of the Rocky Mountains to the coast of California, where they spend the winter at about 200 sites scattered throughout the coastline. Last winter, I had a chance to visit the Monarch Grove in Santa Cruz, California, where thousands of monarchs were resting in eucalyptus trees and occasionally fluttering about in search of water or nectar. As a monarch conservation biologist who entered the field only after the monarch population plummeted in size, seeing the monarch overwintering in California was an amazing sight. In just one glance, I was able to see more monarchs in Santa Cruz’s Monarch Grove than I normally see in an entire summer. Unfortunately, even the thousands of monarchs I saw were just a fraction of the numbers once found at that overwintering site. Read the rest of this entry »
Gayle Steffy’s fascination with butterflies started when she was thirteen. She found her first monarch caterpillar, brought it home and raised it to adulthood. She’s been hooked ever since, collecting data on monarchs years before joining any of the established monarch citizen science projects. Despite her early interest, which eventually led her to acquire a BS in Environmental Studies, she didn’t initially envision where her work would take her. “I didn’t have a specific goal at the start – I just wanted to record everything I could about each monarch I caught, figuring I could look at it all later and see what it all meant,” she said.
Beginning in 1992, she caught, tagged, and released monarch butterflies in Pennsylvania during their annual migration to Mexico, and then recorded if any of the monarchs were later found at their Mexican overwintering sites. After 18 years of collecting migration data, Steffy accomplished something that not many citizen scientists have done before. In August this year, she published her work in a special monarch-themed issue of the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, a well-respected scholarly journal. Read the rest of this entry »
If you’ve already signed up to participate in NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive research to ground-truth satellite data, great! (And thank you!) As soon as you input your data to the GLOBE site, you’ll receive an embroidered version of this patch.
Interested in joining SMAP? We are looking for teams in the following states: AK, AR, ME, NE, NV, NM, TN, UT, VT, WV
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.