Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category
We’re shuffling science into the language department as we explore citizen science projects about words. Explore the science of words by checking out these projects, fit for lovers of literature and armchair museum curators!
The VerbCorner Project
Dictionaries have existed for centuries, but creating exact meanings of many words still needs help. These researchers have broken the problem into a series of microtasks in need of your input.
Notes from Nature
Help museum staff transcribe scanned copies of labels and ledgers that have been meticulously recorded and stored with species over the past century. In many cases these are the only historical records of species distribution available. Putting them online can help accelerate research.
Ancient Lives wants you to help transcribe ancient papyri texts from Greco-Roman Egypt. The data gathered will help scholars reveal new knowledge of the literature, culture, and lives of Greco-Romans in ancient Egypt.
We’re taking citizen science to the NBA! Meet us at the 76ers NBA game on 2/18. It’s Science at the 76ers night! SciStarter is organizing a series of citizen science activities on the concourse. During the game, microbe collection kits will be shot from the 76ers’ T-shirt bazooka right into the stands so fans can swab microbes from their shoes and cellphones for Project MERCCURI! If you are involved in or run a citizen science project available to people in the Philly area, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can participate!
Have you joined more than one citizen science project? Take a 5-10 minute survey and tell us about your experience in this survey!
If you’d like your citizen science project featured on SciStarter, email email@example.com
If you’re looking for more projects for the holiday season, we’ve got 12 Days of Citizen Science for you!
“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” birds! Partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings (pheasants), geese and swans inhabit this festival folk classic celebrating food and merriment. Seabirds, cousins of our dinner table counterparts, enjoy a winter migration to good eats and family too. Yet changes in climate and their relationship with man are driving population declines. Can citizen scientists help conserve our feathered friends?
The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS), in association with the Seattle Audubon Society, is enlisting citizen scientists to catalog the diversity of coastal birds along three square miles of Puget Sound saltwater habitat.
During seabird’s annual migrations, near shore saltwater habitats, such as the Puget Sound, provide valuable food and mating sites. Nearly all species of coastal birds including geese, ducks, swans, loons, grebes, cormorants, gulls, terns and alcids have experienced population declines since the late 1970s due to ecosystem changes caused by human development. Stopping to watch these graceful birds on your way to Grandma’s house can provide important population clues for local scientists.
Now in its sixth season, PSSS is the only land-based study of seabirds in the central and south Puget Sound. (Previous studies relied on aerial and marine data.) “PSSS is a scalable program that engages citizen scientists to collect significant data on valuable environmental indicators” explains Adam Sedgley, former science manager of the Seattle Audubon Society.
On the first Saturday of each month from October to April, citizen scientists are paired with experienced bird watchers and seabird scientists to identify all species of wintering coastal seabirds. Armed with your keen powers of observation, binoculars, compass and rulers; teams survey one of 82 sites along the Puget Sound using a method known as distance sampling. Directly counting each bird can be a challenge to new birders – species are hard to see and identify at a distance, poor weather conditions obscure views, and birds are often underwater. In distance sampling, citizen scientists simply line up a ruler with the horizon then measure the distance to the each bird in millimeters. Record the birds you’ve seen, their distance from the horizon, and compass bearing on PSSS’s interactive website. Using this data, scientists accurately estimate population size and health creating a snapshot of seabird natural history for more than 2400 acres of Puget Sound. This snapshot helps to inform conservation and oil spill clean up efforts.
Being a birder has never been easier. PSSS and the Seattle Audubon Society have developed excellent resources for citizen scientists including the stunning photographs by local photographer David Gluckman and an interactive website with information on all species of seabirds found in the Puget Sound region as well as their habitat and life histories. They also have an interactive map for you to explore each of the survey sites based on the most birds observed or most diverse areas.
Why not take a stop while you’re venturing “over the river and through the woods” this holiday season to watch the birdies?
Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.
Tracking the Invasive Chinese Mitten Crab through the Chinese Mitten Crab Watch
When you go outside on a cold and snowy day you put on a coat and mittens to keep you warm, but did you know that there’s a type of crab that actually wears mittens all year round? It’s called the Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis). These crabs are yellowish brown and have six walking legs and two claws that are covered in furry fuzz (the male’s claws are especially fuzzy). Mitten crabs range in size from 5-10 cm across the top shell and they have 4 lateral spines on each side of the shell. Smithsonian scientists are worried about these crabs because they have become invasive from Asia to North America and Europe. In China these crabs are considered a delicacy. It is thought that they first came to the US either in the ballast water of ships (water in the hull of a ship that keeps it upright) coming from Asia or possibly in the food trade.
So, what’s the big deal about little crabs with mittens?
The big deal behind mitten crabs is that they can have some really negative impacts on the ecology of fresh water and marine ecosystems. These types of crabs are called catadromous (cat-ad-ra-mus), which means that during their juvenile years they live in fresh water and in their adult years they move to salty or brackish waters; this is a double-whammy for those trying to protect wetlands and waterways. Mitten crabs also tend to move en-masse (in large groups) when they travel from fresh to salt water. This movement can clog fishing nets, pipes, and water intake systems.
Mitten crabs are omnivorous feeders and they’ll eat just about anything. If they invade non-native waters they have the ability to effect food webs by eating aquatic plants, detritus, fish, fish eggs, micro and marcro invertebrates, algae, and even other crabs. By eating the food of native species fish, crabs, and invertebrates these mitten wielding arthropods have the ability to unbalance entire food webs. Another big issue is that when the crabs move into creeks and rivers they burrow into the sides of the waterways. This causes accelerated erosion and weakening of levees and flood control efforts. Land managers in Germany have already had to deal with the repercussions of mitten crab destabilization of dams and waterways. As if all this wasn’t enough, the mitten crabs can also carry a version of the Oriental lung fluke, which can be passed on to humans that eat them.
Where are they, and what can we do?
Most of the early sightings of mitten crabs have been in waterways along the West Coast of North America, in California and the San Francisco Bay Area (in the 1980’s). They have recently been found in the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore Maryland. Researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and other groups from around the US are trying to track the abundance and distribution of this invader. You can help by joining the Mitten Crab Watch.
Steps to take if you find a mitten crab-
- Do not throw it back! Keep it contained and away from any body of water.
- Take close up photos of the crab a ruler in the picture if possible.
- Note the precise location (long/lat) the crab was found, date, and time.
- Freeze the animal and put it on ice in a freezer or cooler.
- Report the mitten crab sighting by submitting all this information and photos to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu. Researchers will get back to you immediately.
If you have questions you can always call the Mitten Crab Hotline (443) 482.2222.
You can also upload your sightings on the Citizen Science website Project Noah by joining the Mitten Crab Watch mission. Scientists need the power of crowd sourcing and citizen science to watch out for these invaders. You can help by joining the effort.
If you’re looking for more projects for the holiday season, we’ve got 12 Days of Citizen Science for you!
Bird watching has been popular for a long time. It goes back at least as far as the 1780 bird-listing song so popular with carolers, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Certainly only birders would count 7 swans (a-swimming), 6 geese (a-laying), 5 golden rings (evidence of historic bird-banding practices), 4 colly birds (blackbirds), 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and 1 partridge (in a pear tree).
Even further back, roughly in the year 0 AD, odds are pretty good that at least one of the three wise men in the manger was a birder. It was exactly 1,900 years later in the United States when Frank Chapman turned a traditional Christmas Side Hunt into an event for counting birds and pooling their numbers instead of their carcasses. In so doing, he cultivated Christmas spirit towards sharing knowledge instead of consuming resources. Even more, he anticipated that the shared knowledge would be put to use towards conserving our feathery companions. The Christmas Bird Count, now run by the Audubon Society, is an iconic example of citizen science. To this day, many say “bah-humbug” to their holiday shopping list in order to make time for their species checklist.
And for many bird lovers, one annual tradition is not enough. People extend the Christmas spirit of the Audubon event by sharing their observations in other programs. These include Project FeederWatch (November through early April) run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, and the Breeding Bird Survey (summer) run by the US Geological Service’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Several years ago, I realized that data from the Christmas Bird Count might shed light on a fundamental issue in ecology: competition between species in the wild. With enthusiastic colleagues, we analyzed trends of two very common species in Christmas Bird Counts for a research paper in the journal Ecology.
The hypothesized competitors were House Sparrows and House Finches. If you watch a bird feeder, you may even see these two common birds interact in ways that generated this initial hypothesis of competition. These two species fight for the same food.
House Finches are small, brown streaked birds, and the males, when on the right diet, have lipstick red feathers on their heads and upper bodies. They are native to the western US and were introduced to the eastern US in the 1940s. House Sparrows are native to Europe and only introduced to the US in the late 1800s. You are probably familiar with them as they hop around to eat crumbs in parking lots or under tables at any outdoor café. These are rough-and-tumble little birds that don’t just challenge birds their own size: they also can out-compete their much larger cousin, the Eastern Bluebird, in battles over nestboxes.
We confined the study to the Midwestern US, where neither House Finches nor House Sparrows were in their native range, neither holding a home-field advantage.
For ecologists, seeing two species fight doesn’t qualify as sufficient evidence for competition; we need to see a population-level response. In captivity, researchers can see when two species of fruit flies cannot coexist, but how relevant is that to how competition influences wild populations? In field studies, when similar species are able to co-exist, the differences in their niches are often interpreted as evidence of past competition. Ongoing competition is hard to show in the wild because it requires experimentally altering one population and looking for a response in the other and then vice versa to validate. Thus, only through field experiments that manipulate populations can we find reliable evidence of competition. After the introduction of House Finches to the eastern US, researchers began to make a case for competition by noting subsequent declines in House Sparrows. But the vice versa was needed to confirm.
Opportunity for this confirmation presented itself when House Finches declined dramatically in 1994-96 in the mid-western US due to the spread of a conjunctivitis eye disease. The spread of the disease was tracked through citizen science efforts in the House Finch Disease Survey, and continues to be tracked directly through Project FeederWatch. The rise and fall of House Finch populations from invasion and then disease, in areas with House Sparrows, created a natural experimental test of competition. There are few opportunities to look for evidence of competition among wild birds, especially at such large scales. We couldn’t have taken advantage of this opportunity without citizen science.
The long-term monitoring in the Christmas Bird Count revealed the vice versa: House Sparrows increased soon after House Finch declined from disease. And we found the same support from observations contributed to Project FeederWatch and the Breeding Bird Survey. This means that House Finches are the competitive winners, giving House Sparrows their come-uppance, except when other factors, like eye disease, turn the tables and decrease the House Finch populations.
Science is based on observation, as is bird watching. No wonder science and birding have been united by citizen science for over a century. Over 70,000 people participated in the Christmas Bird Count last year. I’m sure there will be even more this year. Let’s celebrate the holiday season with good will towards all birds.
Images: Kenn Kaufman (with permission), Flickr
This post originally appeared on the PLOS CitizenSci Blog.
Dr. Caren Cooper is also a blogger for Scientific American and the Public Library of Science. She is a research associate at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Senior Fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program. She is co-chair of the publications committee of the newly forming Association for Citizen Science and co-editor of an upcoming special feature on citizen science in the open-access journal Ecology & Society. She has authored over 35 scientific papers, co-developed software to automate metrics of incubation rhythms, and is co-creator of NestWatch, CamClickr, Celebrate Urban Birds, YardMap, and the House Sparrow Project. Follow her @CoopSciScoop. She likes to propel herself on one wheel, two wheel, and eight wheel devices.
Make sure you’re on Santa’s “nice list” this year. Lend your hands, hearts and brains to science during these 12 days leading up to Christmas!
On the 1st day of Christmas, the Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests gave to me:
A chance to monitor the invasive insects that attack both hemlocks and Fraser firs (the most popular Christmas Tree in North America).
On the 2nd day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
Two turtle doves that I spotted during the Christmas Bird Count, which takes place December 14 through January 5 each year! The count is the world’s longest running citizen science project.
On the 3rd day of Christmas, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center gave to me:
Three Chinese mitten hens (female crabs) on the east coast of the United States. Mitten Crab Watch needs our help to determine the current distribution status of the mitten crab in the region.
On the 4th day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
Four or more calling birds that I “adopted” for the holidays. Through December 31st, anyone can adopt a bird for someone special, and Audubon will send them a personalized holiday card showcasing the adoption and an Audubon gift membership.
On the 5th day of Christmas, geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University gave to me:
Five frozen skating rinks! This winter, you can track climate change through backyard skating rinks by taking part in Rink Watch. Just put in the location of your backyard rink on a map and record days you can skate.
On the 6th of Christmas, Seattle Audubon Society gave to me:
A chance to help seabird researchers create a snapshot of geese density on more than three square miles of near-shore saltwater habitat.
On the 7th day of Christmas, the Swan Society of the University of Melbourne gave to me:
The MySwan project to report sightings of tagged black swans around the world. After you submit your sighting, you’ll get an instant report about the swan, with interesting information about its history and recent movements.
On the 8th day of Christmas, Zooniverse gave to me:
The Milky Way Project, a chance to help scientists study our galaxy, as well as the Milky Way advent calendar and even Milky Way tree ornaments!
On the 9th day of Christmas, the European Space Agency gave to me:
Citizen scientists doing our favorite dance: the robot! By flying a Parrot AR drone in virtual space, you can help create new robotic capabilities for space probes and contribute to future space exploration.
On the 10th day of Christmas, Computer Science Education Week gave to me:
Ten million students leaping into the world of computer programming. During the week of Dec. 9-15, students will take part in the Hour of Code. But it doesn’t stop there – tutorials are available all year round!
On the 11th day of Christmas, the University of Washington gave to me:
SingAboutScience, a searchable database where you can find content-rich songs on specific scientific and mathematical topics. These singers sure have some pipes!
On the 12th day of Christmas, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation gave to me:
The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey to help hunters survey the population of ruffed grouse during breeding season.
If you’re fortunate to experience a white Christmas, consider sending your snow depth measurements to cryosphere researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Snow Tweets project. They want to use your real-time measurements to help calibrate the accuracy of satellite instruments currently measuring snow precipitation.
Happy holidays from the SciStarter team!