SciStarter Blog http://scistarter.com/blog Covering the people, projects, and phenomena of citizen science Wed, 19 Aug 2015 02:32:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 Make a Difference by Counting Croakshttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/make-a-difference-by-counting-croaks/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/make-a-difference-by-counting-croaks/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 02:32:51 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11551 This is an except of a story that ran in the February 2015 issue of Association of Zoos and Aquariums monthly magazine, Connect. Looking for amphibious citizen science projects? Look no further! SciStarter has some lined up for you right here. By Cathie Gandel At dusk, Carolyn Rinaldi and her 14-year-old daughter sit silently on the […]

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White lipped tree frog (by Felanox/Wikipedia,/CC BY-SA 3.0)

White lipped tree frog (by Felanox/Wikipedia,/CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is an except of a story that ran in the February 2015 issue of Association of Zoos and Aquariums monthly magazine, Connect.

Looking for amphibious citizen science projects? Look no further! SciStarter has some lined up for you right here.

By Cathie Gandel

At dusk, Carolyn Rinaldi and her 14-year-old daughter sit silently on the shores of the lake at Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middletown, Conn. Then their ears go into overdrive. For three minutes they count the different grunts, gribbets, croaks and peeps emanating from frogs and toads resident in the wetlands.

They are just two of the volunteers that took part in FrogWatch USA during 2014, a citizen science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The name is somewhat of a misnomer. The program could be called FrogListen.  Volunteers identify frogs by listening to their mating calls and indicating whether each was heard individually, in a group or in a full chorus.

AZA took over management of the program in 2009 and began to establish a network of chapters throughout the country. Chapter coordinators bring creativity to the program, as well as train volunteers in the necessary monitoring protocols. “The volunteers feel connected to a local group and engaged with a community,” said Rachel Gauza, education outreach coordinator at AZA.

Why Frogs and Toads are Important

According to the IUCN, more than one-third of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species are threatened with extinction.  Their permeable skins make them sensitive to environmental changes, including habitat destruction, climate change and water pollution caused by fertilizer runoff and pesticides.

“It’s the canary in the coal mine kind of thing,” said James Sirch, education coordinator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and leader of the chapter co-hosted by the museum and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn.  As the environment changes, the frogs will let us know, he said.

Training

“This is one program that is easily learned with a little bit of help and time,” said Sirch. But it does take practice.

Some chapters develop their own training tools for recognizing the different calls of species. For example, Matt Neff, in the Department of Herpetology at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, and lead coordinator of the Smithsonian National Zoo chapter, has designed a website that allows volunteers to practice their skills. The chapter at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio is working on a CD of calls recorded at different sites. “The training usually involves listening to one call at a time,” said Dr. Jennifer Clark, assistant professor of biology at the college.  “But in the field, you hear overlapping calls. The CD will be more realistic.”

Monitoring

While training materials may differ, monitoring protocols are the same. Volunteers must be at their site at least 30 minutes after sundown, sit quietly for two minutes and listen for three minutes. Then they note the species name and calling intensity. “If you hear just a few separate individuals without overlap, that is a one, calls overlapping is a two and a full chorus is a three, said James Sirch.  “If you don’t hear any frogs, you write down zero,” he says. “Hearing nothing tells you something, too.”

Volunteers can choose wetland sites near their homes and are encouraged to monitor twice a week from February through August because different species of frogs breed at different times.  Volunteers enter their data into FrogWatch-FieldScope, which makes information instantly available to anyone who wants to see a species’ range or discover what other species are being heard in their community and throughout the country.

“We’ve found that FrogWatch-FieldScope has helped with the retention of volunteers,” said Matt Neff. “Volunteers can see the impact of their data in real time.”

Barbara Foster, lead coordinator of the FrogWatch Researchers of the Greenville Zoo (FROGZ) chapter in South Carolina, appreciates the immediacy of the data. “I know when I check FrogWatch-FieldScope it is current.”

Why Get Involved?

“We’re doing it for fun but also for the greater good of protecting a whole class of animals,” said Jenny Kinch, an education instructor at the Greenville Zoo.  FrogWatch USA also gets you out of the house and into nature where you never know what you might discover.

“You’ll be listening for frogs and all of a sudden, a beaver will slap its tail right behind you. It’s just fun,” said Greenville volunteer Valerie Murphy.

Dolores Reed and her husband, volunteers near Washington, DC, go out together. “It’s our date night,” she said. They have seen foxes and watched the courtship flights of snipes and woodcocks.

And then there is what Rachel Gauza calls the “treasure hunt” aspect of the program: hearing an unexpected or rare mating call, or even observing a new species for the area.

This program is more than just amphibian research, said Amanda Watson, an education instructor at the Greenville Zoo. “The program ties into so much that the AZA is about: climate change, the health of the habitat and conservation,” she said.

Join FrogWatch USA and make a difference.


Cathie Gandel is a communications professional based in Bridgehampton, N.Y.  She has spent over 25 years in journalism, corporate communications, and public relations – some of that time with major corporations such as Time, Inc., some with smaller companies and some as an independent consultant or freelancer.For more see www.cathiegandel.com

 

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Are You Up for an Innovation Challenge?http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/are-you-up-for-an-innovation-challenge/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/are-you-up-for-an-innovation-challenge/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:00:17 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11592 Guest post by Carrie Freeman In the new world of Big Data, we’ve learned how to acquire great data, but we’re still struggling with accessing it, understanding it, and putting it to work. That’s especially true with environmental data, where the urgency of problems facing people right now is driving efforts to turn raw digital […]

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people-coffee-notes-tea

Guest post by Carrie Freeman

In the new world of Big Data, we’ve learned how to acquire great data, but we’re still struggling with accessing it, understanding it, and putting it to work. That’s especially true with environmental data, where the urgency of problems facing people right now is driving efforts to turn raw digital input into information leading to concrete solutions.

One global group, the Eye on Earth Alliance, is addressing that problem directly by convening the Eye on Earth Summit 2015 and organizing the related Data Innovation Showcase. As a competition intended to spark fresh thinking about how to use data, the Showcase is calling for entries from citizen scientists—professionals, too—and from artists who have a brilliant idea for applying publicly accessible data to solving environmental challenges. But time is running out—entries must be submitted online by August 20, 2015. Winners get a free trip to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to participate in the summit (October 6–8), which will focus on informed decision-making for sustainable development.

The Showcase’s Data Visualization Challenge invites artists, designers, and other creative types to submit data visualizations that bring to life the impact of poor air quality, rising ocean temperatures, or natural disasters. Entries should creatively package data to stimulate decision-makers and others to spot new insights and connections, then go on to solve real-world environmental problems. Individuals or teams can submit any kind of data visualization, such as a videos, 3D models, computer simulations, or, say, an interactive map showing where on the globe poor air quality triggers a higher rate of respiratory diseases. The winner will present their work at the summit.

The Citizen Science Challenge calls for hardware, software, technology platforms, or even non-technological approaches that apply data to solve food-waste problems, reverse trends in forest degradation, or increase biodiversity for resilient cities. So, for instance, an entry might be a smartphone app connecting restaurants that have excess food with organizations serving those in need locally. Or it might be an invention that enables real-time forest monitoring at the community level. Three teams in this challenge will be selected to present their ideas to the summit delegates, who will then select the winner.

In both challenges, entries will be evaluated for their originality, their likely impact on their intended users, their relevance to the selected theme, and their technical soundness.

Simply attending the summit might be the biggest prize. The brainchild of the Eye on Earth Alliance, this event draws global thought-leaders to collaborate on better understanding the supply and demand dynamics—and the enabling conditions—of data to support sustainable development. That purpose neatly underscores the mission of the Alliance, which seeks to give open access to environmental, social, and economic data that anyone can use to stimulate sustainable development. Member organizations are the Environmental Agency–Abu Dhabi through the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, the Group on Earth Observations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Resources Institute.


Freeman 0761 72dpi clr

Carrie Freeman is a partner at SecondMuse and has been studying how business can be a key contributor in an ever-advancing civilization for 20 years. A strong advocate for using information and communication technologies to help solve global challenges, she has worked with organizations such as Intel, Nike, NASA, USAID, World Bank, the EPA and The Nature Conversancy to address complex challenges with technology. Currently, Carrie is working with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Eye on Earth Alliance to engage citizen scientists and data artists in the Data Innovation Showcase. Carrie regularly speaks at global forums and sits on several advisory boards. She lives in and enjoys New Mexico with her husband and son.

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Understand the science behind a wildly popular, iconic American pastime with The Science of Cheerleading, a new ebookhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/understand-the-science-behind-a-wildly-popular-iconic-american-pastime-with-the-science-of-cheerleading-a-new-ebook/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/understand-the-science-behind-a-wildly-popular-iconic-american-pastime-with-the-science-of-cheerleading-a-new-ebook/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 14:36:06 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11586 There’s more science to cheerleading than meets the eye. And for the country’s 3 million cheerleaders, one way to engage with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts is to understand how these fundamental ideas impact their cheerleading. A new book, The Science of Cheerleading introduces cheerleaders to STEM and Citizen Science by doing […]

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Photo Credit: Science Cheerleader

Photo Credit: Science Cheerleader

There’s more science to cheerleading than meets the eye. And for the country’s 3 million cheerleaders, one way to engage with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts is to understand how these fundamental ideas impact their cheerleading.

A new book, The Science of Cheerleading introduces cheerleaders to STEM and Citizen Science by doing just that. The free ebook is designed to help cheerleaders learn how and why certain movements and positions work well – and how others can be improved. Want to form a more solid pyramid, or launch a higher basket toss with a precise (and safe) landing? Understanding the science, technology, engineering, and math inherent in cheerleading will help readers gain a greater understanding of cheerleading (and lots of other forces in the world too).

The book was created by Darlene Cavalier, founder of Science Cheerleader, an organization of 300 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are pursuing science and technology careers. These inspiring women recognize that science and engineering are part of nearly every aspect of our lives, and they simultaneously share a message of encouragement to follow dreams and challenge stereotypes along with the practicality of scientific pursuits and concepts.

Together with SciStarter (the publisher of this blog, also founded by Darlene Cavalier), science cheerleaders have also participated in several citizen science projects and events including two major initiatives with NASA – Space Microbes in which the growth of microbes in space was studied aboard the International Space Station and the Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) satellite mission in which citizen scientists are being recruited to collect data that will help scientists understand links among Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles and enhance the ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts.

“An estimated 3 million young women and men are involved in cheerleading in the U.S., “ said Darlene Cavalier. “We hope this book helps them understand the science, technology, engineering, and math inherent in cheerleading. Once they grasp those STEM concepts using something familiar (cheer), they can apply the principles to other things and achieve a greater understanding of how the world works.”

Each chapter of The Science of Cheerleading includes:

  • A brief video of a Science Cheerleader introducing the chapter’s topic
  • A brief video of youth cheerleaders performing a science cheer about that topic
  • Text, illustrations, and some fun examples
  • A 2-3 minute video of an interview with a Science Cheerleader so readers learn more about her connections to science and cheerleading
  • Science terms are included in bold text, with more information in the Glossary
  • Cheer terms are also in bold with a Glossary link to explanations of the cheer terminology

A high-level look at several science careers is also included.

“We’re thrilled to have our youth cheerleaders featured in the Science of Cheerleading ebook, ” said Craig T. Scott, Chief Marketing Officer of Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. “They’re either observing the scientific principles of cheerleading, or they’re putting them to the test. This book provides a fun way to help kids and coaches understand and employ the science that they take for granted in the cheers.”

Many physics principles are highlighted in the book, along with examples from cheerleading and other real-world applications:

  • Newton’s Laws of Motion
  • Changes in velocity and acceleration
  • Angular momentum
  • Terminal velocity
  • Compression and tension
  • Center of gravity vs. the center of mass
  • Kinesiology (how muscles work)

The book includes basic information on other relevant scientific topics like nutrition, computer science, acoustics, and weather.

The Science of Cheerleading ebook is available FREE for download on iTunes. The Science of Cheerleading is also available as an interactive PDF (warning, it’s a large file to download!) and it’s available as a NON-interactive PDF (easier to download but it does not include videos).

“Kudos to the Science Cheerleader for creating this gem of a book,” said Burroughs Wellcome Fund President John Burris. “The lessons and information contained within are immediately accessible and practical for cheerleaders and sport fans.”


Darlene Cavalier, creator of The Science of Cheerleading, is a former high school, college, and NBA cheerleader (Philadelphia 76ers). She is the founder of Science Cheerleader, a group that playfully challenges stereotypes while inspiring young girls to consider science careers. She ran a $1.5 million NSF grant to promote basic research through partnerships with Disney and ABC TV and collaborated with the NSF, NBC Sports, and the NFL to produce the Emmy award winning Science of NFL Football series. Cavalier is a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society, a contributing editor and senior advisor at Discover Magazine and is the founder of SciStarter, a website that connects regular people to citizen science projects—real scientific research projects done in collaboration with scientists.

The Science of Cheerleading ebook was made possible by a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, advancing biomedical science by supporting research and education. Other partners include JAMZ Cheer and Dance, Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., Team Cheer, Science Cheerleader, SciStarter, SimInsights, Arizona State University, and the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

The above article contains information reproduced from the press release provided by Science Cheerleader.

 

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Time Traveling in New Mexicohttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/time-traveling-santa-fe-site-steward/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/time-traveling-santa-fe-site-steward/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 15:25:19 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11582 Citizen scientists of the Santa Fe National Forest Site Steward Program in New Mexico volunteer thousands of hours through difficult terrain to record observations at archeological sites, helping protect their scientific value for future research. Find out more about this project on SciStarter. Going out on a hike? Check out these cool projects that you […]

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Stewards monitoring site on the Santa Fe National Forest (Credit: Santa Fe National Forest)

Stewards monitoring site on the Santa Fe National Forest (Credit: Santa Fe National Forest)

Citizen scientists of the Santa Fe National Forest Site Steward Program in New Mexico volunteer thousands of hours through difficult terrain to record observations at archeological sites, helping protect their scientific value for future research. Find out more about this project on SciStarter. Going out on a hike? Check out these cool projects that you can participate in!

Time traveling is one of my favorite things to do as a citizen scientist. As part of the New Mexico Site Steward Program, I walk slowly through an archeological site, the ground littered with the remains of pottery from people who lived here a thousand years ago. I am free to touch and finger these clay shards as long as I carefully put them back where I found them. I pick up (and put down) a square of white with thin black lines, part of a bowl with an interior painted scene—perhaps a crane spearing fish or a woman giving birth. I pick up (and put down) a curved piece the size of my palm of brown corrugated cooking ware–all those simmering stews of meat, roots, and herbs. I pick up (and put down) a geometric pattern of red and white, part of the human aesthetic: look at the world in this way.

As I walk through the remains of this village, past lines of rock that were once the walls of homes, I am also taking notes and photographs and looking for signs of damage by humans, animals, or natural forces. By keeping track of what is happening on this archeological site, I am helping protect its scientific value for future study and research.

My duties are fully explained in the Site Steward Handbook. Find It. Record It. Report It. In particular, the looting of such sites for their cultural artefacts is a major problem—and a criminal offense. The program is carefully constructed to avoid confrontation with any so-called pot-hunters: if I see anyone on my site, I should watch from a distance, collect whatever information is possible such as license number and “subject description,” and then leave. I am also reminded that I should dress for weather, carry plenty of water, tell my site manger when I am going, travel in teams if possible, gas up my vehicle before leaving, stay near the vehicle if it breaks down, and be careful while driving through arroyos. Sending people out to remote areas in the Southwest is no joke, and we all take the job seriously.

I am part of a larger network which includes the New Mexico Site Watch program supervised by the state of New Mexico and the Santa Fe National Forest Site Steward Program, one of New Mexico’s largest with sixty to eighty stewards who monitor over two hundred sites in the Santa Fe National Forest. These volunteers contribute around 5,000 hours a year, logging in over 40,000 miles total on their vehicles. Mike Bremer, the chief archaeologist in the national forest, says, “From a preservation perspective, the stewards are the Forest’s eyes and ears for site inspection.”

Moreover, as site stewards grow more knowledgeable about their particular sites, they are in a position to help visiting archaeologists and researchers. Mike Bremer adds, “The stewards tend to observe the subtle shifts in site condition and have given us a sense of site dynamics and short term changes. One of the things they contribute frequently is an alternative perspective that can lead to new ways of interpreting site function.” Site stewards are also the ones who may know hidden features such as nearby shrines or petroglyphs.

In the Santa Fe National Forest Steward Program, many volunteers go on and pursue even more training in archaeology, participating in excavations and large scale site documentation projects. Some site stewards have acquired specific skills such as archaeo-magnetic dating and use that in assisting professionals with their work.

Mike notes, “The biggest achievement is that we are able to know what condition our sites are in–at a time when budget constraints don’t provide for the resources we need to perform that monitoring.” The volunteers with the site steward program on this national forest also organized a separate nonprofit organization not affiliated with the Santa Fe National Forest called the Site Steward Foundation that argues for site preservation and promotes public awareness of the value and importance of archaeological resources. Moreover, Mike adds, “It’s fun to work with the stewards. I cannot begin to tell you the contribution these people have made to my life as the Forest Archaeologist and to me personally, as a friend of many of them.”

My own work as a site steward includes monitoring a small cliff dwelling in the southern part of the state. The site is high and hidden on top a crumbly slope that requires some climbing. A raven seems to have adopted the task of monitoring me, and the silence is broken periodically by his gurgly thonk-thonk-thonk. At the top of the climb, an adobe wall blocks half of an overhanging ledge to create a cave-like room, which I can enter through a narrow opening that still has its wooden lintel. Peering into that room, hand on the worn and polished wood, I feel—again–the frisson of time-travel, now scented with mice urine and accompanied by a triumphant ka-ka-ka!

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Volunteers needed to test drive Cancer Research UK’s new analysis mechanic.http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/volunteers-needed-to-test-drive-cancer-research-uks-new-analysis-mechanic/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/volunteers-needed-to-test-drive-cancer-research-uks-new-analysis-mechanic/#comments Sat, 08 Aug 2015 05:23:37 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11573 Calling volunteers! Cancer Research UK has a new project called The Citizen Science Trailblazer Project. The goal is to develop an app that improves how users analyze cancer pathology data. Volunteers to help test the prototype. The Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science team is committed to finding innovative ways to accelerate research by crowdsourcing. Already, […]

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Source: Cancer Research UK

Source: Cancer Research UK

Calling volunteers! Cancer Research UK has a new project called The Citizen Science Trailblazer Project. The goal is to develop an app that improves how users analyze cancer pathology data. Volunteers to help test the prototype.

The Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science team is committed to finding innovative ways to accelerate research by crowdsourcing. Already, the team has three web-based projects up and running. Their new project channels the success of their earliest app Cell Slider. Cell Slider asked participants to identify cancer cells from healthy cells. The team found the public was able to identify cancer cells with a promising degree of accuracy. Now they are developing a new analysis mechanic which will allow for even greater levels of accuracy.

Early beta testing by pathologists and volunteers showed promising levels of agreement. The final iteration of the new mechanic will be ready for testing by volunteers in early August. Testing involves looking for cancer cells in tissue slides rendered into images on an online platform. Each image is divided into 12 sections, and testers click on regions they suspect contains cancerous cells. The team needs at least 30 volunteers to help with this final round of testing.

Once finished, the analysis mechanic will be made available either as a web-based app or a mobile game. This is a unique opportunity for volunteers to not only learn about cancer but to be directly involved in project development. Register to volunteer by emailing your full name to citizenscience@cancer.org.uk.

Check out their other games and apps: Reverse the Odds and Play to Cure: Genes in Space.

 

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Take a hike with citizen science!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/take-a-hike-with-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/take-a-hike-with-citizen-science/#comments Sat, 08 Aug 2015 01:38:00 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11565 Planning a hike this summer? Be a trail blazer and add some citizen science to your adventure. Our editors highlight five projects, below, to add to your backpack! Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder! Happy trails! The SciStarter Team Track a Tree Volunteers […]

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Photo: USFWS

Photo: USFWS

Planning a hike this summer? Be a trail blazer and add some citizen science to your adventure.

Our editors highlight five projects, below, to add to your backpack!

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!

Happy trails!

The SciStarter Team

Photo: Alli Phillimore

Photo: Alli Phillimore

Track a Tree

Volunteers are needed throughout the United Kingdom to track how the presence and timing of flowering plants alter as climate changes. Choose trees near you and track the development of flowers beneath the treethroughout the season.

Get Started!

santa fe national

Photo: USDA

Santa Fe National Forest Site Stewards 

The Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico is home to many culturally and historically significant sites. Monitor and document any changes that occur at these sites, either due to natural causes or vandalism.

Get Started!

Photo: Georgia Murray

Photo: Georgia Murray

Mountain Watch 

Collect data on the timing and development of flowers while hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. This information is used to track the effects of climate change and the health of mountain ecosystems. Plant guides are available to help hikers identify flowers. Read more about this project on the SciStarter Blog.

Get Started!

Photo: USFWS

Photo: USFWS

Connecticut Turtle Atlas  

Connecticut is home to 12 different turtle species. Record turtle sightings (and locations) from your smartphone to help researchers better understand and protect these species. Read more about this project on the Scistarter Blog.

Photo: Brooks Weisblat

Photo: Brooks Weisblat

Habitat Restoration Bird Monitoring
The island of Virginia Key, just of the Miami coast, was decimated by the dumping of waste from dredging nearby areas. Restoration is underway and researchers need your help evaluating environmental developments by monitoring bird species and vegetation growth.

 

AnnouncementsNASA and SciStarter are enlisting citizen scientists for nationwide research that examines soil moisture conditions and water availability. Sign up by August 8 to learn more!

The Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project needs citizen scientists to participate in a native crab surveyAugust 7-9 and 14-16.

Our pals at Science Cheerleader just published a free eBook on iTunes. The Science of Cheerleading explains basic physics and engineering concepts AND connects America’s 3 million cheerleaders to citizen science!

Contact the SciStarter Team
Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

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Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains? Here’s How You Can Contribute to Science While You’re At Ithttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/appalachian-mountain-watch/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/appalachian-mountain-watch/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 10:00:33 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11560 Hikers in the Appalachian mountains contribute data and help researchers learn how climate change is affecting plants living in high Alpine ranges and promote conservation in the face of these changes. Learn more about Mountain Watch, the citizen science project featured in the upcoming SciStarter newsletter. Find out what other projects you can participate in the […]

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Hiking on Appalachian Trail (Credit: Chewonki Semester School/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Hiking on Appalachian Trail (Credit: Chewonki Semester School/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Hikers in the Appalachian mountains contribute data and help researchers learn how climate change is affecting plants living in high Alpine ranges and promote conservation in the face of these changes. Learn more about Mountain Watch, the citizen science project featured in the upcoming SciStarter newsletter. Find out what other projects you can participate in the great outdoors here!

by Kristin Butler

A few years ago I read the book “Following Atticus” by Tom Ryan. It’s a true story about a man and his dog and the adventures they had climbing the Appalachian Mountain Range to qualify for membership in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s prestigious “Four Thousand Footer Club.”

In addition to being a great tale about the relationship between Tom and his dog Atticus, the book beautifully illustrates the profound impact wilderness can have on the human body, mind, and spirit.

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has a 140-year history of engaging volunteers by enlisting them to help build and maintain trails, advocate for laws that protect nature, raise money to conserve wild lands, share programs that educate the public, and organize recreational activities like the hiking club Tom and Atticus joined.

In 2004, the club started a citizen science program called ‘Mountain Watch’ that harnesses the passion visitors like Tom have for alpine trails by engaging them with opportunities to collect data on the blooming patterns of mountain flowers while they hike.

Citizen Scientists in AMC's Mountain Watch program. (Image credit: A Roy/AMC)

Citizen Scientists in AMC’s Mountain Watch program. (Image credit: A Roy/AMC)

The purpose of Mountain Watch is two-fold: to gain a better understanding of how climate change is affecting the phenology (timing of events such as budding, blooming, and fruiting) of plants living in high Alpine ranges, and to increase public awareness about the issue and promote conservation in the face of these changes.

“It was a good paring,” said AMC Staff Scientist Georgia Murray.

Since AMC started the project in 2004, volunteers with the program have turned in almost 2,000 data sheets and have made more than 9,000 plant phenology observations, Murray said. Through trainings and naturalist-led events, volunteers in the project are also learning about the ecology of the places they love to visit.

The data volunteers collect through Mountain Watch is being combined with information collected by AMC staff scientists and naturalists, and can be used by scientists to ask questions about how observed changes to the timing of events such as flower blooms and the appearance of fruit, correlate with changes observed in climate.

Last year, the AMC increased the impact of Mountain Watch by evolving it into a much larger effort called A.T. Seasons (for Appalachian Trail) in partnership with the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the National Phenology Network.

The A.T. Seasons citizen science program studies habitat from Maine to Georgia, focusing on a wider range of woodland plants, and has added monitoring of some bird, frogs and insect species to add variety and represent the breadth of life that depend on these habitats, Murray said.

The project’s partners use a consistent protocol so data can be analyzed across regions. Additionally, they have developed an online datasheet application, offer online and in person training, and have created an online visualization tool so volunteers and others can see the results of their work.

New data (and Mountain Watch’s past data) are  now added to the National Phenology Network’s database so it will be available to other scientists and the public.

To learn more about A.T. Seasons or to become a citizen scientist with the program and help protect the alpine ranges that hikers like Tom and Atticus love, visit the project page on SciStarter and learn how to participate.


Kristin Butler is a Bay Area journalist and Outreach and Communications Director for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

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Coop’s Scoop: Amphibian and Reptile Citizen Science on the next #CitSciChathttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/coops-scoop-amphibian-and-reptile-citizen-science-on-the-next-citscichat/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/coops-scoop-amphibian-and-reptile-citizen-science-on-the-next-citscichat/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 21:59:22 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11544 There are millions of people taking part in citizen science across the world, and thousands of practitioners – scientists, educators, computer scientists, and activists – organizing citizen science projects. Citizen science has emerged as a new discipline, with novel ways of enabling scientific research, informing policy and conservation, and motivating learning. New organizations, such as […]

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Cuban Rock Iguana (photo by Staselnik)

Cuban Rock Iguana (photo by Staselnik)

There are millions of people taking part in citizen science across the world, and thousands of practitioners – scientists, educators, computer scientists, and activists – organizing citizen science projects. Citizen science has emerged as a new discipline, with novel ways of enabling scientific research, informing policy and conservation, and motivating learning.

New organizations, such as the Citizen Science Association, the European Citizen Science Association, and Citizen Science Network Australia, are helping practitioners connect with each other to solidify best practices and training. Other organizations provide cyberinfrastructure to help administer citizen science projects, like Zooniverse for online projects and CitSci.org and Wildbook for field projects. Other organizations, like Public Lab and Global Community Monitor, support grassroots citizen science. Still other organizations, like SciStarter, connect participants with projects.

To add one more way of connecting on citizen science, in January of this year, I started organizing and moderating monthly discussion sessions on Twitter about citizen science under the hashtag #CitSciChat. The largest hub of citizen science projects, SciStarter, enthusiastically sponsors #CitSciChat because our missions align to build bridges among practitioners and participants. Check out archived chats in Storify from January, February (gamification), March (spring), April (trees), May, June (oceans), and July (sharks).

Red Eft (photo by Jason Quinn)

Red Eft (photo by Jason Quinn)

In a question-answer format with guest panelists, I moderate discussion by raising most of the questions, but everyone is welcome to ask, answer, and follow-up on questions. There are common threads through each #CitSciChat. We explore the scientific, policy, and conservation impact of citizen science projects as well as learning and social outcomes. We chitchat about educational resources for teachers. We share approaches and philosophies to citizen science. We converse about motivations for participants and what types of data volunteers contribute. We discuss who uses the data for varied purposes and how accessible it is for public uses. We talk about transformative experiences and remarkable innovations associated with citizen science.

The theme of #CitSciChat this week is amphibian and reptile citizen science. Amphibians and reptiles, commonly called herps (as in herpetology, based on the Greek root herpet which means creeping), includes animals that hop and slither too, like frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, snakes, lizards, and turtles, to name a few.

Global trends in herpetofauna are troubling. According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, about one third of the 6,000 species of amphibians are at risk of extinction (for comparison, about 12% of birds and 23% of mammals are threatened species). Gibbons and colleagues reported in 2000 a déjà vu level of risk for reptiles. As with most biodiversity loss, the primary culprits are habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, disease, harvesting (for pets), and climate change. Citizen science helped detect some these trends and holds the potential to create conservation solutions.

Fortunately, there’s already a large community of herpetofauna aficionados around the world primed for citizen science. Unfortunately, people who like to find creeping critters don’t have the exact same traditions of natural history recording as, say, bird watchers. Namely, it is not universal to keep the same sort of checklists which are ideal for citizen science.

Last year, two professors at Utah State Univ, Ryan O’Donnell and Andrew Durso, published a paper about how to improve herpetological databases that rely on citizen science. They basically described a system a like eBird, but for cold-blooded spotted, stripped, and mottled herps.

Nevertheless, there are volunteers already contributing data on amphibians and reptiles and reporting these in over 65 citizen science projects. Over 40 of these citizen science projects focus solely on amphibians and/or reptiles. As O’Donnell and Durso explained, if more of these projects switch to checklists and encourage recording non-detections (i.e., what species are absent from a site), researchers will be able to better estimate population trends and distribution. Reporting non-detections, or absences, in addition to presence data makes for more robust insights.

O’Donnell and Durso also emphasized that many projects could be improved by requiring reporting information on volunteer effort (e.g., how much time spent searching and/or over how much area). Amphibian population size in a given area will naturally fluctuate wildly, and high annual variation makes it difficult to detect long-term trends. Detecting trends in relative abundance can be a little easier if participants report their effort.

Finally, O’Donnell and Durso encourage all projects to more actively encourage submissions. To recruit and retain participants to a project requires a type of engagement grounded in mutual understanding, communication, and with shared benefits. Building communities around herpetology research will help citizen science projects reach their full potential in herp conservation. Let’s talk about how on the next #CitSciChat.

Join us for #CitSciChat this Wednesday 5 August at 2pm ET, 7pm BST, and Thursday 6am NZST. With typically about 200 people tweeting, re-tweeting, asking and answering questions, and welcome you to add your voice to the vibrant discussions! Remember to include the hashtag #CitSciChat when you chime in so that everyone can follow the conversation.

Follow this week’s guest panelists:

The team of Greg Pauly, Richard Smart, & Miguel Ordenana (@NatureinLA) – for RASCals and GeckoWatch (both run through iNaturalist)

Chris Smith (@fieldecology) with HerpMapper, a global herp atlas (@HerpMapper)

Sean Sterret (@SeanSterrett) with the USGS

and hopefully Froglife (@froglifers), a herp conservation organization in the United Kingdom

 

Greg Pauly of RASCals citizen science

Greg Pauly of RASCals citizen science

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How Citizen Scientists are Creating an Atlas of Turtles in Connecticuthttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/how-citizen-scientists-are-creating-an-atlas-of-turtles-in-connecticut/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/08/how-citizen-scientists-are-creating-an-atlas-of-turtles-in-connecticut/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 11:39:11 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11539 Citizen scientists in Connecticut are creating an atlas of the many species of turtles and helping researchers understand the role of turtles in the ecosystem. Find more information about participating in Connecticut Turtle Atlas, the citizen science project on SciStarter and check out for our newsletter featuring projects you can do outdoors! Guest post by Russ […]

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Eastern Box Turtle (Image Credit: Andrea Janda/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Eastern Box Turtle (Image Credit: Andrea Janda/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Citizen scientists in Connecticut are creating an atlas of the many species of turtles and helping researchers understand the role of turtles in the ecosystem. Find more information about participating in Connecticut Turtle Atlas, the citizen science project on SciStarter and check out for our newsletter featuring projects you can do outdoors!

Guest post by Russ Campbell

Nothing quite says summer like a stroll along the water’s edge and finding a turn of turtles basking on a log or witnessing the slow and deliberate pace of an eastern box turtle.  Before these ancient creatures retire to the earth for their winter hibernation, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich asks for your help in mapping the turtle population in the Constitution State.

I recently interviewed Tim Walsh, turtle biologist and Manager of Natural History Collections and Citizen Science at the Bruce Museum, on the Connecticut Turtle Atlas.

Why was the Connecticut Turtle Atlas created?

The Bruce Museum started its citizen science program in September 2014 and brought me on board as the coordinator.  Since we had a brand new program without any projects, we first found some things that we participated in immediately like the Cat Tracker and the School of Ants out of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

I’m a turtle biologist by trade so I worked in my interests to create this project.  The reason for the atlas is that Connecticut is a pretty rich state for turtle diversity.  We have some fairly endangered species like the North American wood turtle and the bog turtle.  For the most part, they are fairly well protected by the state, but I don’t think most of the public knows about them.  The public mostly hears about turtles like the Galapagos tortoises or a rare Chinese turtle but folks typically don’t think about the turtles in their own backyard as being in any kind of danger.

Basically, we were thinking about finding new localities in the state where turtle species haven’t been found and also to create an awareness campaign to get people to think about the animals they may see routinely throughout the spring and the summer.

I don’t think about Connecticut as having a diverse population of turtles, but is it fairly significant?

We have 12 species out of which the red eared slider, a fairly common one, was introduced to the state.  Out of the 12 there are four sea turtles that come into the Long Island Sound as transient residents.  We also have the diamondback terrapin, which is a brackish water species.  We have the bog turtle, which is dependent on wet meadows and shallow swamps.  The wood turtle is relegated to fairly clean water streams and they are usually associated with the riparian zone and associated woodlands.  Maybe a good diversity of turtle species is not the right thing to say but there is certainly a diversity of habitat utilization.

What role do turtles play in the ecosystem?

It’s not very well understood really.  There are a lot of life history studies on turtles and we know specifics about the individual species but, how they fit within the dynamics of say food webs, there’s a lot of data that’s lacking.

I just finished up a [research] paper with a colleague in Florida on red-shouldered hawks and we found the remains of 12 species of turtles near the nest, all of which had been predated.  That’s pretty significant but when you look in the literature, red-shouldered hawks were only known to take three species of turtles as prey.  There’s a lot of data floating around among researchers that’s not made available.  So you have to wonder if researchers have this kind of data, what do everyday people have that they encounter in their own backyards that we’re just not seeing? That’s where citizen science really comes in handy.  You have these data sets that are wading out there with potentially new information, but unless you tap into it, it’s just lost knowledge.

In speaking about citizen science, it sounds like anyone can participate in the Connecticut Turtle Atlas?  All you need is a smartphone and the app.

There was a variation of this project that started about 15 years ago, before social media and iPhone apps.  If you found a turtle, you would take a picture, label where you found it, and email it in.  Over the years there were around 800 records collected, mostly of snapping turtles and painted turtles, but the project eventually folded.  So when I came to the Bruce Museum, that one was ripe for renewal especially with the technology we now have at our fingertips.  For me, the fewer steps you have to take to enter the data, the more participation you have.  For someone to enter data when they’re on the fly on their phone, it’s like gold for a project like this.

What I liked about iNaturalist [the app used to collect data for the Turtle Atlas] is that anything that is deemed threatened or endangered or vulnerable by the IUCN Red List they obscure the public view by 10 km.  So the only person who can see the actual location is the person who logged the data and the project coordinator.  So it gives protection for endangered and vulnerable animals from people who may want to collect them.

The Connecticut Turtle Atlas also allows us to track exotic and invasive species in the area.  Generally, when people are at a park and see a bunch of turtles on a log, they are classified as painted turtles, but really they’re a bunch of red eared sliders.  It’s a good dialogue to have with people and let them know that those turtles are not supposed to be there because they are usually released as pets.

Part of the Connecticut Turtle Atlas that I’d like to promote but haven’t been able to as much of is to do field trips with local participants.  I think what happens with a lot of citizen science projects is that there’s not a lot of interaction between the citizen and the scientist.  Mostly it’s just plugging in numbers and that’s it.  What I really want to do with this project is create a dialogue.


Note:  Walsh is also the coauthor of Turtles of North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia

Russ Campbell heads communication at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a private biomedical foundation located in Research Triangle Park, N.C.  He is a volunteer with the Turtle Rescue Team, based out of the NC State University Veterinarian School.  He is the cofounder of the Science Communicators of North Carolina (SCONC).

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Citizen Science for herptile fans!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/07/citizen-science-for-herptile-fans/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/07/citizen-science-for-herptile-fans/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 21:20:15 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11521 Amphibians and reptiles, also known asherptiles or herps, are the focus of many citizen science projects. If you like frogs, turtles, and salamanders, just to name a few, join one of the projects below to help us better understand the distribution and population status of these wonderful creatures! Check out the SciStarter blog for updates […]

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Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Amphibians and reptiles, also known asherptiles or herps, are the focus of many citizen science projects.

If you like frogs, turtles, and salamanders, just to name a few, join one of the projects below to help us better understand the distribution and population status of these wonderful creatures!

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!

Cheers!

The SciStarter Team

Photo: Nick Berry

RASCals

The Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California project studies both native and non-native species. If you’re in southern California, take picture or sound recording of a frog, lizard, or any other herp and submit it online! Read more about the project on the SciStarter blog.

Get Started!

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

FrogWatch USA 

Many frogs can be identified by their calls; FrogWatch USA teaches citizen scientists to identify frogs in their area and report their presence online. The data are then made accessible to anyone who is interested!

Get Started!

Photo: Reese & Will Bernstein

Photo: Reese & Will Bernstein

GeckoWatch

Non-native geckos are expanding throughout the south and southwest of the United States. Help scientists better understand invasion biology and the expansion of these species by reporting gecko sightings online.

Get Started!

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Michigan Herp Atlas 

In order to track changes in Michigan’s herp populations over times, volunteers are needed to record their reptiles and amphibian sightings. Current and past observations are accepted, and reports from seldom monitored parts of the state are especially encouraged.

Get Started!

Photo: USFWS

Photo: USFWS

Salamander Crossing Brigades

Throughout New Hampshire, salamanders travel to small ponds each spring to breed. Many have to cross dangerous roads to make it to the breeding sites. Citizen scientists help the amphibians safely cross roads while recording information on the species and abundance of animals. Read more about the project on the SciStarter blog.

Get Started!

Announcements

NASA and SciStarter are enlisting citizen scientists for nationwide research that examines soil moisture conditions and water availability. Sign up by August 8 to learn more!

The Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project needs citizen scientists to participate in a native crab surveyAugust 7-9 and 14-16.

Our pals at Science Cheerleader just published a free eBook on iTunes. The Science of Cheerleading explains basic physics and engineering concepts AND connects America’s 3 million cheerleaders to citizen science!

Contact the SciStarter Team
Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

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