Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

Dragonfly Watch – Find Those Fast and Furious Insects!

By June 12th, 2015 at 12:12 am | Comment

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

“I’m an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work,” says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation Director at the Xerces Society. In her role as the project coordinator for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, she continues to add acclaim to these fast and furious little critters, “The nymphs are amazing predators with extremely cool adaptations for feeding—hinge-toothed lower lips that shoot out faster than the eye can see—and respiration rectal gills that double as a jet-propulsion chamber!”

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is a collaborative partnership that was set up between experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in which citizen scientists play an integral role. There are many questions currently surrounding dragonfly migration that MDP is trying to answer. For example, says Dr. Mazzacano, “What is the southern extent of migration, what is the relationship between resident and migratory members of the same species at the same site, and do all individuals that migrate south from a single place, go to the same destination in the south, or do individuals drop out and overwinter at different latitudes?” The primary goal of the project is to answer some of these questions and to provide information needed to create cross-border conservation programs to protect and sustain this amazing migratory phenomenon.

The Project has enjoyed an extremely positive response from the citizen science community. “Because the adults are so lovely, I consider dragonflies to be the poster children of aquatic invertebrates. They are much easier to see and care about than the equally important but less obvious mussels, stoneflies, and mayflies,” adds Mazzacano. Many people are fascinated by dragonflies but don’t really know anything about them, and consequently want to learn more, and find good places to observe them. “Interestingly, many birders are also getting into dragonflying.”

There are five dragonfly species that are the most regular annual migrants in North America. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership collects data on them in two ways, via two different but connected citizen science projects. For the Migration Monitoring project, citizen scientists report dragonflies heading south in the late summer and fall (these may be in the tens of thousands, thousands, or a steady trickle of individuals—it varies); and the Pond Watch project, where the local life history and the relationship between resident and migrant dragonflies of the same species in the same habitat is investigated. Here citizen scientists are asked to report on the presence or absence, abundance, and behaviors of migratory species at their Pond Watch site on a regular basis throughout the year.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

The project has only been running for three years, which means that MDP is just now beginning to accumulate enough data to publish findings. “One of the first products was a comprehensive review paper by steering committee member and [retired Rutgers University] odonate expert Dr. Mike May ,” says Mazzacano. “And we have a paper in the works about the results of the stable hydrogen isotope studies done on wings of migrating dragonflies to determine how far they traveled from the site where they developed and emerged as adults.” That paper should be out later this year.

With current emphasis on the unique ability of citizen science projects to meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by providing opportunities for inquiry, MDP is now partnering with Dr. Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota, who is working on dragonfly-based curriculum for school children. “And more immediately, we are beginning to work now with local organizations that focus on environmental opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Portland Oregon area to offer dragonfly-based environmental education in Spanish,” notes Mazzacano.

As with many hobbies, after all the inquiry has been satisfied, it comes down to enjoyment and recreation. The most exciting thing about the project for Mazzacano is that it gets more people outdoors interacting with insects in a positive way, and  connects those people to their local ponds and wetlands. “Freshwater is the most threatened resource we have, and when people learn about and start to love the creatures in local waters that they might not even have known existed prior to this, they will become more engaged in trying to protect those resources,” says Mazzacano with enthusiasm. And of course it has also been exciting for her, thanks to the data collected by citizen scientists, to be able to answer some of the many questions that exist about dragonfly migration. “I think this connection to freshwater is a benefit that will go on long after individual citizen scientists learn about, and help with MDP projects.”

Would you like to become a citizen scientist in this project? Connect to the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership here, register your local pond, pack a picnic hamper and head out to monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies. Note any additional behaviors, such as observed migratory flight, feeding or mating, and you are encouraged to take photos or record video coverage.

When gathered across a wide geographic range and throughout a span of years, these data will provide answers to questions about which species are regular migrants; the frequency and timing of migration in different species; sources, routes, and destinations of migrants; and the health of their environment.

Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at


The White House Wants Your Help to Stop the Decline in Pollinators

By May 27th, 2015 at 11:59 am | Comment

Pollinators: A critical component of a healthy ecosystem. And oh, they also affect 35% of the world's crop production. (Image Credit: USFWS)

Pollinators: A critical component of a healthy ecosystem. They also affect 35% of the world’s crop production. (Image Credit: USFWS)

Pollinating animals play a crucial role in our food production system, and they are essential in maintaining the health and vitality of many ecosystems.  Unfortunately, many pollinator species, such as bees and butterflies, have been declining recently.  In response to that decline, the national Pollinator Health Task Force, commissioned by the White House, recently released the Pollinator Health Strategy. Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen scientist divers help track the success of artificial reefs.

By May 14th, 2015 at 6:00 am | Comment

: Photographs taken by citizen scientist divers allow the scientific community to see the marine life flourishing on the Yukon. Source Michael Bear.

Once a warship, the HMCS Yukon is now an artificial reef providing much needed sanctuary for local marine life. Source Michael Bear.


This is a guest post by Michael Bear Citizen Science Project Director at Ocean Sanctuaries.  In this post, he describes a citizen science led effort to catalog marine life living in and around the HMCS Yukon. In 2000, the Yukon was transformed into an artificial reef as part of San Diego’s  marine conservation effort.


In 2000, the City of San Diego in collaboration with the San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF), purchased, cleaned and sank a 366 foot-long Canadian warship called the HMCS Yukon to create an artificial reef, a task at which has been spectacularly successful. Sitting at the bottom of the San Diego coast, the Yukon attracts dozens of local marine life species and is becoming a revenue-generating attraction for tourist divers from around the world.

When this project started, both the SDOF and the local scientific community were curious to understand the effects of an artificial reef on local fish populations and surrounding marine life. A joint study was undertaken by SDOF and Dr. Ed Parnell of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and released in 2004.¹ Crucial to the study was data gathered by local citizen science divers to generate a baseline of marine life species on the ship.

This year, Ocean Sanctuaries, San Diego’s first citizen science oriented, ocean non-profit is conducting a follow up study to the pioneering work of Dr. Parnell and colleagues. Established in 2014, Ocean Sanctuaries encourages and supports citizen science projects which empower local divers to gather marine data under scientific mentorship and forward our understanding of the oceans. Ocean Sanctuaries currently has three active citizen science projects. ‘Sharks of California’ and the ‘Sevengill Shark ID Project’ are both shark related. The third project is the follow-up study on the Yukon called the Yukon Marine Life Survey.

The data gathered in this project will be mainly photographic. Local divers will photograph specific areas of the ship in quadrats and with transect lines and the data will to be compared with the same areas examined in the 2004 study.

Artificial reefs are proving to be a successful marine conservation effort. Source Michael Bear.

Photographs taken by citizen scientist divers allow the scientific community to track marine life on the Yukon. Source Michael Bear.

The project plans to use a web-based application for wildlife data management called ‘Wildbook’ for cataloging observations made in the Yukon Marine Life Survey. ‘Wildbook’ was originally designed to identify whale sharks, but will be modified as a multi-species database for use with the Yukon Marine Life Survey.²

Referring to the original Yukon Marine Life Survey of 2004¹, Barbara Lloyd, Founder of Ocean Sanctuaries says, “The Yukon Artificial Reef Monitoring Project (ARMP) was a short-term baseline study of fish transects and photo quadrats. The ARMP project has been gathering data for about a decade now.  We at Ocean Sanctuaries strongly believe that a follow up study to the original baseline study can provide the research and fishing communities with valuable marine life data.  In addition, unlike the original study, we intend to use photographs to ensure verifiable encounter data.  We aim to create a large base of citizen scientists to take the photos and enter the data.  This crowd-sourced data will allow us to collaborate between citizens and researchers.”

The current Yukon Marine Life Survey will span at least five years. Once completed, the data will inform scientists of changes to the marine life on the ship enabling California coastal managers to evaluate the impact of artificial reefs on local marine species.  Take a video tour of the Yukon and learn more about the project at SciStarter.



1. Ecological Assessment of the HMCS Yukon Artificial Reef
off San Diego, CA, Dr. Ed Parnell, 2004:

2. Wildbook: A Web-based Application for Wildlife Data Management

iSeeChange: documenting the weather around us

By May 9th, 2015 at 9:53 am | Comment

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

From shoveling the third heavy snowfall of winter to spotting the first crocus of spring, each day without fail we experience our environment. Meaning each of us is a potential wealth of information about our local environment. Information that if gathered could inform climate scientists about the local effects and potential indicators of climate change. This is the premise of iSeeChange, a crowdsourced journal of community submitted local weather and environment observations.

The variability of weather and environmental conditions is an inherent challenge in climate science. Is the current drought in California a result of climate change or just an extreme version of the state’s periodic droughts? Was the devastation of Hurricane Sandy a fluke event or foreshadowing of a future trend?

To address this variability, climate scientists collect and average data across large spans of time and space. But managing data this way poses its own issues. “Climate science has a difficult time drilling down and being relevant to everyday people making every day decisions,” says Julia Kumari Drapkin creator of iSeeChange. “We designed iSeeChange to bridge the gap between the big data that the scientists collect and the local experiences of individuals and communities. The project allows people to reach their hands up and meet the big data half way overcoming this problem of scale.”

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Since its creation in 2012, iSeeChange has grown from a local weather almanac in Colorado to a nationwide environmental reporting network. Anyone can become a member and submit observations on the website. Viewers can sort through the data by date or season, refining their search through metrics such as humidity, precipitation or cloud cover. Ideally members submit data on a weekly basis but in reality participation can range from a single backyard photo to religiously gathered measurements. One iSeeChange member uploaded observations made in a journal kept by a Dust Bowl era fruit farmer, noted Julia.

But beyond a data repository, the purpose of the project is to encourage conversation between scientists, journalists and individuals. “We want people to be curious, ask questions about what they see and experience. Then scientists and journalists in our network try to answer those questions,” says Drapkin. “The posts help scientists and journalist as well. Member submissions call attention to interesting or unusual events, which get picked up by journalists, transforming a few individual’s observations into a larger story.”

And these stories will become informative climate data for the future. Already researchers are expressing interest in the data. The project’s growth and collaborations with scientific partners at NASA, UC Berkeley and Yale is setting the stage for a larger impact. Due out in summer, iSeeChange co-developed an app with NASA that will ping community members to send in local observations whenever satellites are overhead. “The app will allow for real time comparisons between what the satellite sees and what is happening on a local level,” explains Drapkin. “We will learn what the impacts are and why it matters. We will be able to take the quantitative data and match it to the qualitative data and see how they compare over time.”

Ultimately iSeeChange is about empowering individuals and communities to document and investigate their environment. “People are experts of their own backyards. The granular changes they observe add up to bigger picture changes,” says Drapkin. “Already, these community observations have given scientists and journalist new insights and heads up on environmental trends.”

iSeeChange_logo  If you collect data about your local environment, want to share an interesting change you have notice or have a question you, visit iSeeChange and become part of a large scale effort to document your environment. To learn more about iSeeChange view their trailer.

Celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day with SciStarter and Citizen Science!

By April 22nd, 2015 at 8:01 am | Comment

Photo: NPS

Photo: NPS

Earth Day is April 22 and Arbor Day (in the USA) is April 24!


Just about every one of the 1,000 projects featured on SciStarter contributes to a better planet but here five projects you can do to participate in research about trees, just about anywhere on Earth.


Read the rest of this entry »