Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

Southwest Monarch Study Taps Citizen Scientists to Track Butterfly Migration

By June 25th, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Comment

Migrating monarchs roosting (Image Credit: Nagarajan Kanna/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Migrating monarchs roosting (Image Credit: Nagarajan Kanna/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In Arizona and the surrounding Southwestern United States, over 400 people are participating in a nine-year ongoing game of tag. But these folks are not tagging each other. They’re actually romping about in meadows with small nets, hoping to catch and tag a Monarch butterfly.

In 2003 Chris Kline began the Southwest Monarch Study in order to track the migration pattern of the Monarchs that appear in Arizona. Much was known about the migration of Monarchs down the eastern coast to Mexico, but this was not enough. Kline rallied Arizona locals to achieve mass data collection across the state, uncovering information about the unique Monarch population.

Gail Morris is the current project leader of the Southwest Monarch Study and she radiates a passion for Monarchs. She sees beauty beyond the surface of their iridescent wings. Gail says that “it’s their incredibly long migration that gets me most excited.” She explains how wildly adaptable they are, as they use adverse weather conditions to their advantage. These little, thin winged creatures use Arizona’s annual monsoon to take flight thousands of feet into the air and fly fifty to one hundred miles a day. They can use columns of warm rising air called ‘thermals’ for travel. Once, after a day of meadow-romping, Gail was chatting with a friend by their cars: “This monarch shot up from a tree at angle like a plane ascending.” They marveled as it it joined a cast of hawks in a thermal and disappeared into the sky.

So where are these butterflies going when they catch a ride in the wind? According to the Southwest Monarch study, it depends. Arizona Monarchs have a unique travel agenda, and it even varies from day to day. Monarchs comfortably take the wind as it blows, following it to specific overwintering locations in either California or Mexico depending on how the wind presents itself on the day they take flight. These locations can be as specific as a single tree, flocked to year after year. Some Monarchs even stay in Arizona through the winter, merely migrating to lower altitudes.

All of this raw data was gathered by the locals, and analyzed by professional scientists. “The local people often see the movement but it had never been published,” Gail says. A while back Gail was searching for Monarchs with a group of citizen scientists in Northern Arizona. “These bird watchers heard we were looking for orange butterflies and they said ‘Stop at the fishery, you’ll find them there’”. This did not align with Gail’s previous knowledge about Monarch habitats, but she hesitantly followed her own mantra: the locals know best. When the group arrived at the fishery they were surrounded by walnut trees and these trees were showered in Monarchs. Gail was struck yet again by the Monarch’s adaptability to variable habitats.

Lisa Rensch also finds her free time best spent chasing butterflies. She’s a prominent citizen scientist with the study, as she has been tagging with her daughter since 2013. Her daughter, only one year old when they began, learned to delicately handle the butterflies. Lisa is a true nature lover, completely losing track of time as she tracks the Monarchs. While tagging she has run into goldfinches and even “a nest of deer mice,” she says. “It was lined with thistle down, the babies all snuggled cozy inside.” She never knows what she’ll find while searching for Monarchs.

Currently the Southwest Monarch study is expanding. Groups in California, Utah, and Colorado are now tagging. As science often goes, the findings of the Southwest Monarch study have led not only to answers, but to further questions about these resilient creatures.

Ultimately, the study hopes to further encourage conservation. Families and public areas are already inspired by the project, filling in the missing link to Monarch survival: rich sources of nectar for the butterflies to feed on. Southwest Monarch Study is teaming up with the city of Mesa, Tanto National forest, the Nature Conservatory, and the Bureau of Land Management, where each organization is adding milkweed to their property as a nectar source to support feeding of the Monarchs. Milkweed is a rich nectar source for other pollinators as well, so other animals will benefit a side effect.

If you are wowed by these little troopers and live in the Southwestern United States, check out the Southwest Monarch Study. Find caterpillars, tag butterflies, plant milkweed and watch your garden come alive. If you are elsewhere, keep learning about these fascinating creatures by checking out this video, or learning about the findings from the study. Knowledge breads conservation; discovering how cool science is breads passion.


Love pollinators and want to do more? Check out our newsletter featuring other interesting pollinator citizen science projects that you can participate in!

Celebrate Pollinator Week with Citizen Science!

By June 23rd, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Comment

Photo: Wendy Caldwell

This week we celebrate National Pollinator Week, in honor of the bees, butterflies, beetles, and other animals that provide essential services to ecosystems and agricultural lands everywhere.

Citizen science is at the forefront of pollinator research, and below we highlight six projects that you can join to help study and protect pollinators. To find more, visit the SciStarter Global Project Finder.

Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

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Helping Herptiles with Citizen Science

By June 13th, 2016 at 11:44 pm | Comment

Photo: USFWS
Amphibians and reptiles, also known as herptiles or herps, are the focus of many citizen science projects. Are you interested in frogs, turtles, and snakes? If you are, join one of the projects below to study the distribution and population status of these wonderful creatures!
Find more than 1,600 projects and events in the SciStarter Global Project Finder.
Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

Cuban Treefrog
Cuban Treefrogs are an invasive species causing trouble throughout the state of Florida. Report the presence of Cuban Treefrogs and native Treefrogs.

North Carolina Sea Turtle Project
Volunteers along the North Carolina coast are needed to search for sea turtle tracks and report nests and strandings. These activities help biologists monitor and protect the turtles.

Photo: Janalee Caldwell
OK Amphibian Disease Testing
Students and teachers in Oklahoma are needed to catch frogs, quickly swab their skin, and send the collected samples in to be tested for a fungal disease. Lesson plans are available.

Photo: Mike Pingleton
HerpMapper
Whenever you see a reptile or amphibian of any kind, you can report it to HerpMapper. You can easily keep a record of your own sightings and contribute to a larger database of herptile populations.

Photo: Henry Doorly Zoo
Amphibian Conservation and Education Project
Volunteers throughout Nebraska can participate in this project by monitoring amphibian populations, testing for diseases, and monitoring the quality of aquatic habitats.

Explore the Frontiers of CitizenScience in New Book from ASU.

The latest volume in “The Rightful Place of Science” series is a cutting-edge look at the changing relationship between science and the public. Co-edited by SciStarter Founder, Darlene Cavalier, with a blurb from Bill Nye the Science Guy.Get your copy today!

Citizen Science for Bat Fans!

By May 26th, 2016 at 7:36 pm | Comment

Photo: USFWS
Those Elusive Flying Mammals!

Bats can be tricky to spot and observe but let’s try because they need our help.  As disease, habitat loss, and climate change decimate some bat populations, we can help scientists monitor and protect them.

Below, our editors highlight five bat-related citizen projects from around the globe.

Find more than 1,600 projects and events in the SciStarter Global Project Finder.
Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

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Conversations in CitSci: Kay Havens of Project BudBurst

By April 9th, 2016 at 8:33 am | Comment

Spring is in the air! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Spring is in the air! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The beauty of citizen science is the ability for non-professional researchers to get up close and personal with science. Think about all of your experiences collecting data from your backyard, analyzing images of spring online, and learning about new topics in science, have you heard from the scientists you’re helping?
In our new series, “Conversations in CitSci”, we speak with the people behind the projects.

By Sarah Dunifon

“Plants have great stories to tell, if we take the time to listen to them,” says Kay Havens, consultant with Project BudBurst. “Project BudBurst (PBB) is a national campaign to track plant phenology which is the timing of natural events like budburst, first flower opening, full bloom, leaf color change and leaf drop,”. By knowing these phenophases (i.e. the timing of these events), we can better understand what effects climate change may be having on plants. With warmer springs, plants move through their leafing and blooming phases earlier. Read the rest of this entry »