Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

Citizen Science is a Shore Thing!

By July 21st, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Comment

Share jellyfish sightings, track stars during evening beach strolls, count fireflies, or report dragonfly swarms while you’re at the beach this summer. Or participate in dozens of other summertime citizen science projects and advance fields of research in the process! Why not do them all?

Hey! If you’re involved in more than one project, we’d like to hear from you. Email carolyn@scistarter.com to find out why.

 

Globe at Night
Because of light pollution, six out of 10 people in the US have never seen our Milky Way Galaxy arch across their night sky from where they live. Now you can measure the night sky from the beach and contribute to important research. Get started!

 

Dragonfly Swarm Project
Ever see a dragonfly swarm? Magical, aren’t they? Share your observations to help researchers understand where and how these aerial predators swarm. Get started!

 

Jellywatch
Have you seen a jellyfish? Report it to Jellywatch — a public database documenting ocean conditions. They are especially interested in jellyfish washing up, but also track red tides, squid and mammal strandings, as indicators of ocean health. Get started!

 

Marine Metre Squared
MM2 is an easy way to survey the intertidal community in New Zealand. Monitor a 1m x 1m square patch of your local rocky shore once every season by recording the animals and plants that live there. Get started!

 

COASST
Monitor marine resources and ecosystem health at 300 beaches across northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Survey your beach every month and COASST will put the data together and decipher the patterns across the entire survey range. Get started!

 

SEANET
Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) volunteers conduct beached bird surveys along the east coast of the United States in order to identify and record information about bird deaths. Help identify where bird carcass are found, and how this varies across time. Get started!

 

BEACH
The Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication, and Health project participants monitor high-risk Washington state beaches for the bacteria called “enterococci” to reduce the risk of disease for people who play in saltwater. Get started!

 

 

 


Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

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.

Kestrels in the City

By July 17th, 2014 at 9:04 am | Comment

Common kestrel falco tinnunculus (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Common kestrel falco tinnunculus
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

With the help of the public, researchers from the University of Vienna, Austria, have found out that the Eurasian kestrel can be “seduced” by the city lights, but this decision comes at a cost, with lower reproductive success and a poorer diet.

Urbanization is a global event that is invading natural habitats, inevitably leading to a decrease in biodiversity. However, rather surprisingly, this is actually creating new habitats for some species. “Most city dwelling birds are exploiting human resources, like garbage dumps (for example gulls), feeders (granivore birds), or artificial nest sites/nest boxes for cavity breeders”, said Petra Sumasgutner, lead author in the study. “If a species can exploit the urban environment is therefore very much connected to what it needs in its natural habitat”.

In particular, the Eurasian kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is frequently associated with urban landscapes, and Vienna seems to be a popular destination for these birds. For years, Sumasgutner observed kestrels building their nests in small cavities, abundant in old historic buildings, and her scientific curiosity led to further questions about how this is affecting the species.

To find these much wanted answers, her team decided to investigate occupied nest sites in and around Vienna, along a gradient of urbanization from least covered to most covered by buildings. Since coverage of the entire city of Vienna looking for kestrels required many watchful eyes, researchers enlisted the help of volunteers to help them in this search over 3 years. “It was a lot of effort to work with the media and the general public, but it was also a lot of fun. Especially the collaboration with the chimney sweepers and the firefighters was the best”, said Sumasgutner.

It turned out that, although the availability of breeding cavities attracts many birds to highly urbanized areas, city life is not all that’s cracked up to be for kestrels. Birds nesting in the city were more likely to abandon the nest, resulting in lower hatching rates and smaller fledged broods than those breeding in the outskirts. The authors suggest this effect may be a consequence of a forced change in the bird’s diets while staying in the city, as their natural ability to hunt rodents on the ground needed to shift to find small birds instead.

At first, it may seem these city-dwelling raptors are exploiting the urban environment, but a closer look reveals what the authors called an “ecological trap”, with unexpected costs both in terms of reproductive success and prey availability. When asked about the future of kestrels in the city, Sumasgutner’s answer is clear: “not at all in the inner-city”. After observing how kestrels can also nest in purpose-built nest boxes, the author suggested using “the same mechanism which attracts kestrels to breed in highly urbanized areas to actually lure them in a more suitable habitat, like buildings around larger city parks or also the suburban area of Vienna”.

Maybe this could be their next citizen science project, again enrolling the help of the public to save the kestrel. After all, “I would work again in a citizen science project”, concluded Sumasgutner.

Interested in kestrel citizen science projects?  Monitor American kestrels with the American Kestrel Partnership or the Massachusetts Audubon American Kestrel Monitoring Project.


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)

Secchi App: Tracking Phytoplankton with the Push of a Button [GUEST POST]

By June 26th, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Comments (2)

Help scientists monitor the phytoplankton population in oceans with a secchi disk and the secchi app.

Want more marine-themed citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!

Screen shot of the secchi app

Screen shot of the secchi app

Marine ecosystems, like all ecosystems, are made of complex food webs. At the base of the marine food web are the phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are very important, as they are responsible for about half of all photosynthesis on the planet; they absorb half of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and produce half of the oxygen we breathe. Global warming and climate change are unfortunately putting phytoplankton numbers in danger, as phytoplankton populations are negatively affected by warming waters. When the water warms, it creates layers of temperature, so there is less cycling of nutrients than in more mixed waters.

To track these changes, a team of scientists led by Dr. Richard Kirby at Plymouth University, have created a mobile app called the Secchi App.  The app, along with a homemade secchi disk, can be used to measure the turbidity of the water.   These measurements give an estimate of the amount of phytoplankton in the water, and the app attaches GPS information to the data.  Users must select their GPS location first and then input the Secchi Depth. If you are far out to sea the app will  store your data until you get a network connection, when you will be prompted to submit your data to the database; you can decline until later if you are connected to a roaming network.

Testing the waters with a white secchi disk.

Testing the waters with a white secchi disk.

Using a Secchi disk is very straightforward: a 30-cm white disk is attached to a 50 meter-long fibreglass tape measure and lowered into the water until it just disappears from sight, then the depth of the disk below the surface is recorded (this is called the ‘secchi depth’). For the app, there are no restrictions on what the secchi disk can be made from, as long as it’s painted white, weighed down with a 200 gram weight or heavier depending on the disk material (it is important the disk sinks vertically), has a diameter of 30 cm, and is kept clean for maximum visibility. The ideal time to collect data is between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. Users also have the option to input the temperature of the water, take a photograph, add notes, and input their boat name. These details, especially the temperature, would help scientists understand the context of the Secchi depth even more.

Dr. Kirby says this app is for “seafarers  and scientists.” [1]  Anyone with a boat, a secchi disk, and a phone can participate. Since the ocean is too large for data collection by one team, they need your help. Collecting and inputing data for the Secchi app takes less than five minutes, which gives users the opportunity to collect multiple data points in a small amount of time.

When users send their measurements to the database, scientists like Dr. Kirby can use them to accurately predict the productivity of phytoplankton in the ocean. When you use the secchi app and send your data, you are helping scientists track of the number of phytoplankton in the ocean. Their numbers affect the abundance of all organisms in the food web above them. Since phytoplankton are such an important part of the marine food web, their numbers affect the populations of many other species. Participants are helping to track phytoplankton as well as many keystone species. You could be a part of something much larger.

Editor’s Note: The bottom image has been changed to show a white marine secchi disk, which is the proper disk for this type of project. In addition, the quote from Dr. Kirby has been referenced appropriately.  We apologize for the errors.

Reference:
[1] From FAQ section.

Resources:
Plankton Pundit
How to make a Secchi disk (Page 5 of guide)

Image credits: Dr. Richard Kirby


Albany Jacobson Eckert is working toward a BS in Marine Vertebrate Biology at Stony Brook University. She hopes to conduct oceanographic research in the near future. Her blog, marinebiomondays.wordpress.com, is geared toward promoting scientific literacy and explaining concepts behind recent scientific headlines.