Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Is our thirst for energy killing the ecology of the Grand Canyon?

By August 8th, 2014 at 5:45 am | Comment

A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.

Christian Mehlfuhrer. A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

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.

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Waiting for a butterfly to flutter by with the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey

By July 20th, 2014 at 11:01 am | Comment

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!

Hyalophora_cecropia-Maro

Hyalophora cecropia [1]

Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today, I saw one…” [2]

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.

Citizen scientists monitoring monarchs on milkweek in Los Angeles. [3]

Citizen scientists monitoring monarchs on milkweek in Los Angeles. [3]

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.”

Hyalophora cecropia, normally found east of the Rocky Mountains, spotted in California.[4]

Hyalophora cecropia, normally found east of the Rocky Mountains, spotted in California.[4]

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:

[1] Image courtesy Tony Maro (BAMONA submission).
[2] Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
[3] Image courtesy Wendy Caldwell (Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles).
[4] 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.

UK’s Big Butterfly Count is on!

By July 19th, 2014 at 8:38 am | Comment

Count butterflies to find out about the state of nature.

Interested in butterfly citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!

Small White (Pieris rapae) butterfly feeding on a marigold flower.

Small White (Pieris rapae) butterfly feeding on a marigold flower.

From next Saturday 19 July until Sunday 10 August 2014, the Big Butterfly Count will take place in the UK. This citizen science project is organized by Butterfly Conservation UK and can boast being the largest butterfly count in the world.

The Big Butterfly Count was born in 2010, as Butterfly Conservation UK was keen to attract a wider audience of “butterfly newbies” to participate in one of their projects. For many years, this organization has been staging multiple projects to observe butterflies in the UK, but participation requires not only a deep knowledge of different butterfly species and understanding of their behavior, but also the commitment to go out and count butterflies on a regular basis.

As explained by Richard Fox, from Butterfly Conservation UK, the team felt the need to develop a project more suited to a one-off observation that could be done as a family or by schools, and didn’t assume any background knowledge about butterflies – in essence, a citizen science project! All participants have to do is go out on a sunny day to count and identify the butterflies they see during 15 minutes, then log their results online or via an app. The project focuses on 21 common species of butterflies and moths, and participants can download an easy to follow identification chart to help them work out the species they’ve spotted.

Since it started, the number of participants has been steadily increasing and over 46,000 people spotted 833,000 butterflies and moths in 2013, representing a four-fold increase compared to the previous year. Last year’s bright and sunny days meant considerably more butterflies were detected than in 2012, when bad weather had a strong negative impact on numbers. The “whites” (large white and small white butterflies) managed to dethrone the “browns” from being the most spotted types of butterflies, but the overall trend for virtually all species was up.

The fact that weather affects butterfly numbers is not surprising; many observations going back many years – not only through the Big Butterfly Count but through other projects as well – allows researchers to analyze tendencies and understand the impact of climate change on wildlife. Results showed that 2013, despite being considerably better than 2012, was merely an average year when compared to data from the 70s and 80s.  Butterflies in the UK have been on a downward path for the last 10 years, both in terms of abundance and distribution across the country.

To assess the long-term impact on butterfly and moth numbers, Butterfly Conservation UK is keen to continue with the Big Butterfly Count, to find out whether butterflies are able to go back to those record-breaking days or if, even with a good summer, numbers will never the same due to their changing habitat. The organization emphasizes the importance of assessing butterfly population, describing it as “taking the pulse of nature”. As these insects are able to respond very quickly to changes in the environment, even a small drop in numbers can be seen as an early warning sign for further biodiversity losses.

While working side-by-side with the general public, Fox found the experience very rewarding, receiving many positive comments from participants so far. Butterfly Conservation UK hopes this project can work as a stepping stone for some of the most dedicated participants, motivating them to progress to more detailed projects and become regular contributors.

So, if you happen to be in the UK during the counting period, why not go for a bit of butterfly spotting? You can do it sitting down in a park (just make sure you don’t count the same butterfly twice!) or going for a walk in the woods, whichever you prefer.

Looking for ways to count butterflies? Check out the SciStarter project finder.

Resources:
Big Butterfly Count 
Butterfly Conservation UK

Image: Zeynel Cebeci, Wikimedia Commons


Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals,’ from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.

Citizen Science on the Radio: WHYY Features Dan Duran’s Drexel Elaphrus Beetle Hunt

By June 27th, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Comment

Image credit: CC-BY Charles Lindsey via Wikimedia

Image credit: CC-BY Charles Lindsey via Wikimedia

This week on The Pulse and SciStarter’s segment about citizen science, producer Kimberly Haas speaks with Dan Duran, who is running a project that monitors the elusive Elaphrus beetle to monitor stream health.

Read WHYY’s related blog post to learn more. Here’s an excerpt:

Dan Duran, assistant professor in Drexel University’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, has just embarked on a search for one of those indicator species. The marsh ground beetle, which also goes by the Latin name for its genus, Elaphrus, is found along muddy stream banks in temperate regions like ours. Duran says it’s an effective indicator species because it’s adversely affected by run-off, like road salts and agricultural chemicals–that make it into a stream without being visible.

Duran’s goals are to chart where Elaphrus is found in the waterways of the Philadelphia region, and to track changes to their range over time. But ours is a watery habitat, so how will it play out – one researcher vs. how many hundreds of streams? The answer, of course, is citizen scientists.

Here’s where you can help. If you’re a citizen science researcher, project manager, or participant in the PA, NJ, or DE areas, we want to hear from you! If you have an interesting story to share about a citizen science project or experience, let us know. Send your stories for consideration to Lily@SciStarter.com.

whyy_blue1

WHYY (90.9 FM in Philly) Friday on-air schedule:
6-9 a.m. – Morning Edition
9-10 a.m. – The Pulse
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Radio Times
10 a.m. following Sunday – The Pulse (rebroadcast)

Track Lilacs and Loons with Nature’s Notebook

By May 19th, 2014 at 10:59 am | Comment

Observe and collect data to learn how climate and habitat affect plants and animals with Nature’s Notebook.

Track the phenology of plants and animals with these citizen science projects.

Observing a tree in Tucson, Arizona.  Photo credit: Brian Powell

Observing a tree in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Brian Powell

Most North Americans are relieved that spring has finally arrived, especially after a winter when ice storms, snowstorms, frigid temperatures or droughts were regular occurrences. For many, winter was not only harsh, but it was also longer than expected. How could a plant grow and survive with cold temperatures or dry conditions? How would the animals that depend on these plants be affected by these changes? These are a few of the numerous questions the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) investigates. The organization studies phenology, the study of the seasonal plant and animal life cycle events. Consisting of staff members, an advisory committee, and partner organizations (such as the U.S. Geological Survey), the USA-NPN collects and analyzes phenology data in order to address scientific and environmental questions.

Recording observations in Tucson, Arizona.  Photo credit: Sara N. Schaffer

Recording observations in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Sara N. Schaffer

Unfortunately, the USA-NPN has a small staff that cannot observe the wildlife of the entire country by themselves. They decided to enlist the help of citizen scientists so they could gather as many pieces of data as possible. In 2009, the USA-NPN established an online monitoring program for over 200 plant species. The following year, they recognized the need to include animals in the monitoring process; as a result, they added animals to the observation program and formally named it Nature’s Notebook (official site).

This year, the USA-NPN hopes to collect 1 million observations through Nature’s Notebook, and invites anyone who wants to participate. To become an observer, set up an online account; then, you can learn how to observe with aid of a detailed handbook or instructional videos. Nature’s Notebook has also created a mobile app (for iOS and Android systems), where observers can enter observations into the database while they are outdoors. The data is readily available through the Phenology Visualization Tool, where you can look at the data of a particular region or species.

Flowers at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, Arizona. Photo credit: Lorianne Barnett

Flowers at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, Arizona. Photo credit: Lorianne Barnett

The observation process might be overwhelming for someone who is new to it. With over 900 plant and animal species in the database, what should you observe? Theresa Crimmins, the Partnerships & Outreach Coordinator for USA-NPN, recommends that you “start small; pick 1 or 2 plants that are familiar to you. Make it low-effort and fun! Observe plants you know and are familiar with.” You can also join a regional campaign, and focus your observations on a particular species, such as the campaign to track cloned lilacs. For educators who want to incorporate Nature’s Notebook into their curriculum, the USA-NPN has educational material available. Crimmins recommends that instructors incorporate the program around the same time each year, in order to contribute to the long-term record of particular species. While there is a time commitment involved for this citizen science project, repeated observations are necessary to notice the long-term changes of a particular species.

USA-NPN and Nature’s Notebook have definitely made an impact on phenology in the United States. It has partnered with almost 200 organizations, contributed to many peer-reviewed publications, and is collaborating with government agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see how the data can be used to inform decisions about wildlife refuges.  This year, Nature’s Notebook is excited to offer an opportunity to learn and interact through their webinar series. Their next webinar, on June 10th at 11am (PST), will be “A Summary of Spring”; a fitting way to celebrate the season and everything that happens within it.

References: USA-NPN 2013 Annual Report: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

Images: USA-NPN


Rae Moore has a BS in Chemistry from McMaster University and studied Bioinorganic Chemistry as a PhD student at McGill University. She has also been a cheerleading coach, yoga teacher, and preschool science educator. Now she focuses on science education and advocacy, and blogs about scientific job searching on her blog, ThereOnceWasaChemist.com.