SciStarter Blog http://scistarter.com/blog Covering the people, projects, and phenomena of citizen science Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:40:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Citizen Science Helps Discover Thirty New Species Where You Would Least Expect Ithttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/citizen-science-helps-discover-thirty-new-species-where-you-would-least-expect-it/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/citizen-science-helps-discover-thirty-new-species-where-you-would-least-expect-it/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:40:26 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11224 Thisi a guest post by Aaron Pomerantz, a version of which originally appeared on the author’s website The Next Gen Scientist. Search through hundreds of citizen science projects on SciStarter to find one that gets you buzzing! A recent study has revealed thirty species that are new to science living in the bustling city of Los […]

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30 New fly species discovered by the citiens c0ience project BioSCAN (Image Credit: Kelsey Bailey/Emily Hartop)

30 New fly species discovered by the citiens c0ience project BioSCAN (Image Credit: Kelsey Bailey/Emily Hartop)

Thisi a guest post by Aaron Pomerantz, a version of which originally appeared on the author’s website The Next Gen Scientist. Search through hundreds of citizen science projects on SciStarter to find one that gets you buzzing!

A recent study has revealed thirty species that are new to science living in the bustling city of Los Angeles. This is really exciting news because we usually don’t think of urbanized areas as having biologically diverse environments. Our human-made habitat seems removed from nature; buildings and concrete replacing trees and earth. But our lack of information on urban environments has turned into an interesting research opportunity. A few years ago, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County initiated a project called BioSCAN to search for biodiversity, also known as the variety of life forms.

How they did it

It all started with setting up insect traps in the back yards of LA residents. Once a week, these traps were collected, brought back to the museum, and sorted. Emily Hartop and Dr. Brian Brown are the BioSCAN scientists who spearheaded the study for these 30 new species. They focused on the identification of phorids, a group of flies that are small in size but big in diversity.

Emily put in the incredible amount of time required to describe these insects. The process involves carefully inspecting, measuring, and illustrating the physical features of each fly (including fly genitalia). Emily then had the task of comparing her specimens to every known phorid in the world to determine if hers were indeed different. But after all the hours of hard work under the microscope, they now have 30 flies that are new to science. They chose to name each species in honor of the volunteers who hosted the BioSCAN collections in their yards.

Future Outlooks

​So what comes next? In our rapidly changing world, the fauna of cities remains poorly understood. This gives ample opportunity for the next generation of scientists and citizen scientists to uncover more unknown species, describe their life histories, observe new behaviors, and teach us all how these enigmatic creatures impact the urban ecosystem and affect our lives.​

So just remember, you don’t need to travel to a far-off tropical land to find a new species. Maybe you, or your son or daughter, will be inspired to step outside and take a closer look at the natural world around you – and who knows, you may find something new!


Aaron pomerantzAaron Pomerantz is a scientist who specializes in one of the most important groups of living organisms on the planet: insects! He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Entomology from the University of California Riverside and a Master of Science degree in Entomology and Molecular Biology from the University of Florida. Aaron is currently a Science Reporter for Rainforest Expeditions, which involves organizing expeditions to the Peruvian Amazon with teams of biologists, photographers, and filmmakers to share stories about scientific research, wildlife, and discoveries. Follow him @AaronPomerantz

 

 

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Meet the Spring interns!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/meet-the-spring-interns/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/meet-the-spring-interns/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 06:33:00 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11216 My name is Hined Rafeh, and I’m a first year graduate student at Drexel University studying Science, Technology, and Society. I am interested in studying citizen science and mixing it up with project owners, participants and everyone in between. I hope to meet you and other members of the SciStarter community at some of the […]

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My name is Hined Rafeh, and I’m a first year graduate student at Drexel University studying Science, Technology, and Society. I am interested in studying citizen science and mixing it up with project owners, participants and everyone in between. I hope to meet you and other members of the SciStarter community at some of the upcoming SciStarter events I am organizing at the Philadelphia Science Festival between April 23-May 2!

 

 

ErnestHi, my name is Ernest Clymer and I am a junior at Temple University. My area of study is marketing and I hope to graduate with my B.A. by 2016. At this time I am interning at SciStarter not only in hopes of gaining experience with a start-up but being a part of an organization that focuses on building public engagement in science! SciStarter, to me, is the future of how we will obtain and share information with other people all over the world and I’m happy to be able to further promote these efforts through social media and working on promotions for upcoming events taking place in the Philadelphia area!

 

Editor’s note: It’s been such a pleasure working with Hined and Ernest. Their creativity is remarkable and inspiring! We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with them!

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‘Snapshots in Time’: Spotting a Spotted Salamanderhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/snapshots-in-time-spotting-a-spotted-salamander/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/snapshots-in-time-spotting-a-spotted-salamander/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:06:55 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11205 by Aditi Joshi Are you a resident of the northern US or Canada? You can help scientists to spot amphibians! Welcome Spring! As the temperature rises, the beauty of spring unfolds: snow melts, flowers bloom, and birds begin to chirp. In the amphibian world, spring marks the beginning of breeding activities. Among amphibians, wood frogs […]

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Citizen scientists on a field trip to spot wood frogs and spotted salamanders. Image Credit: Chase Mclean.

Citizen scientists on a field trip to spot wood frogs and spotted salamanders. Image Credit: Chase Mclean.

by Aditi Joshi

Are you a resident of the northern US or Canada? You can help scientists to spot amphibians!

Welcome Spring! As the temperature rises, the beauty of spring unfolds: snow melts, flowers bloom, and birds begin to chirp. In the amphibian world, spring marks the beginning of breeding activities. Among amphibians, wood frogs and spotted salamanders are usually the first to breed, laying eggs (spawns) in short-lived pools, ponds and wetlands.

Scientists like Dr. Stephen Spear, from the Orianne Society, are interested in monitoring amphibian breeding activity for further insight into the effect of climatic changes on certain ecosystems. For instance, a cold spell in spring may disrupt the breeding activities of amphibians. Additionally, the presence of commonly found amphibian species, such as wood frogs and spotted salamanders, indicates a relatively healthy landscape, which helps determine important conservation areas.

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) in wetlands. Image Credit: Pete Oxford

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) in wetlands. Image Credit: Pete Oxford

Monitoring the timing of breeding activity can be tricky. Wood frogs and spotted salamanders are found in wetlands across various states, including Alaska, southeastern states such as Georgia and Tennessee, northeastern states such as New York and Maine, and large parts of Canada. Realizing a small team would be ineffective in monitoring wood frogs and spotted salamanders widely distributed across the U.S. and Canada, the scientists sought support from citizen scientists.

Last year, the Orianne Society launched the citizen science project ‘Snapshots in Time’, providing participants with a unique opportunity to identify, observe, and photograph the various stages of amphibian life that they found near their homes. In 2014, citizen scientists contributed over 100 such observations. More observations reported from southern states as compared to northern states, likely due to the differences in the breeding season. In states such as North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan, breeding season spans from April to June, unlike southern states where breeding activity begins in January. This year, the project hopes for more observations from the northern states. Compared to the adult and egg stages of amphibian life, larvae are more difficult to spot, and only 15 percent of the observations were of the larvae and metamorphic stages. Some participants were able to see a fascinating courtship ritual – a well choreographed dance by salamanders to attract their partners.

According to Dr. Spear, spotted salamanders live on land but breed in wetlands. People who study spotted salamanders look forward to ‘mass migration’, an intriguing breeding activity where, on a rainy night, salamanders parade en masse from land to wetlands. That’s an exciting natural history experience.

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Visit Snapshots in Time on SciStarter and learn how to participate.

If you loved reading about this citizen science project from SciStarter, use our project finder to search our database of more than 1000 projects! What’s more, subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll send you handpicked citizen science projects once every two weeks!


 

Aditi Joshi, a freelance science writer, is an expert in the field of clinical psychophysiology. She holds a PhD in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon and has published several academic papers. Apart from science, she is interested in Native American art, and art history.

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We want your germs! For Citizen Science!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/microbes-germs-for-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/microbes-germs-for-citizen-science/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 09:00:07 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11201 Microbes are germs and they are everywhere! Most are good for you. Some are not. Learning more about microbes (where they live, how they behave) can teach us more about their influence on diseases, cures, and our entire ecosystem. Here are five microbial citizen science projects you can do now. Cheers! The SciStarter Team American Gut   When […]

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Photo: CDC

Microbes are germs and they are everywhere! Most are good for you. Some are not.

Learning more about microbes (where they live, how they behave) can teach us more about their influence on diseases, cures, and our entire ecosystem.

Here are five microbial citizen science projects you can do now.

Photo: LLNL

American Gut  

When you join this project, you‘ll receive an at-home kit to sample the microbes in and on your body. You‘ll then be able to compare your results to others across the world and contribute to our overall understanding of microbial diversity.

Photo: NIH

uBiome

The human body is naturally home to many different types of bacteria, but some of those bacteria are linked to diseases and medical concerns. uBiome is a project that uses samples from citizen scientists to better understand the bacteria in our bodies.

Photo: Go Viral

Go Viral   

The flu and other viruses aren’t just inconvenient, theycan be deadly. That makes the research being done by the GoViral project vital. The project provides you with sampling kits to use whenever you‘re feeling sick, and uses the results to track the spread of viral illnesses.

Get Started!

Photo: Cichewicz and Coker

Drug Discovery From Your Soil  

Many medicines, like penicillin, are derived from natural sources, and scientists need your help to discover new, life-saving compounds. Submit a soil sample from anywhere in the USA, and researchers at the University of Oklahoma will analyze it for beneficial fungi.

Photo: Microblitz

MicroBlitz

Attention Australian citizen scientists! You are needed to collect soil samples in Western Australia, which are then analyzed for the smallest, most fundamental part of an ecosystem- microbial DNA.

Get Started!

Update: Space Microbes

Did you participate in Project MERCCURI? Thousands of people submitted microbes from shoes and cell phones and even from NFL stadiums and landmarks! All samples were analyzed and some samples were sent to the International Space Station to compare growth rates in space.  Look what we found and learn who won the microbial Super Bowl in Space! And check out this related Educators’ Guide: Microbes in the Classroom

Meet the SciStarter team and the Science Cheerleaders, and do citizen science, at the Cambridge ScienceFestival! April 18 at the Cambridge Public Library!
Don’t miss the monthly #CitSciChat on Twitter:  the last Wednesday of the month at 3-4pm ET,  moderated by Caren  Cooper @CoopSciScoop and presented by @SciStarter.
Contact the SciStarter Team

Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

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Citizen Science at the Cambridge Science Festival!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/citizen-science-at-the-cambridge-science-festival/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/citizen-science-at-the-cambridge-science-festival/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 16:35:26 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11195 Saturday, April 18 12-4 pm at the Cambridge, MA Free Library Come join the SciStarter team at the Cambridge, MA Science Festival and get involved in citizen science projects to monitor water and air quality, capture and track bees infested by zombie flies, build low-cost instruments for your own research, and more. Meet the Science […]

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cambridge science festival scistarter citizen science

  • Saturday, April 18 12-4 pm at the Cambridge, MA Free Library

Come join the SciStarter team at the Cambridge, MA Science Festival and get involved in citizen science projects to monitor water and air quality, capture and track bees infested by zombie flies, build low-cost instruments for your own research, and more.

Meet the Science Cheerleaders, too! They’re well-versed in citizen science because they activate projects all over the country!

We’re partnering with Discover Magazine and Astronomy Magazine, longtime supporters of citizen-based and community science! Swing by and pick up a copy of a magazine or a citizen science pin and take advantage of special opportunities to subscribe to these magazines.

If you’d like to showcase your favorite project at our booth, email Hilary@ScienceCheerleader.com !

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Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Helps Citizen Scientists Build Connections to Naturehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/monarch-larva-monitoring-project-builds-connections-to-nature/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/04/monarch-larva-monitoring-project-builds-connections-to-nature/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 09:00:21 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11184 Editors Note: This post by SciStarter contributor Eva Lewandowski describes her experiences with citizen scientists from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which was featured in our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is also one of more than 800 citizen science […]

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Photo: Wendy Caldwell, MLMP

Editors Note: This post by SciStarter contributor Eva Lewandowski describes her experiences with citizen scientists from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which was featured in our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!


What do citizen scientists gain when they collect data for a research study? What do they learn, and how does it change them? These are some of the questions that I try to answer in the course of my PhD research. As a graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab, I have an up-close view of our lab’s citizen science project, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP), which has given me an excellent opportunity to find out how citizen science affects the citizen scientists themselves.  Over the past few years I’ve spent a great deal of time meeting, writing about, and studying our MLMP volunteers. More often than not, what strikes me about these interactions is the volunteers’ familiarity with and connection to their monitoring sites.

At the MLMP, we study how the population of monarch butterflies varies in space and time; given the dramatic decline in monarch numbers over the past decade, it’s more important than ever that we understand the factors impacting the monarch population. Each fall, monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the California coast to overwinter, while the monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains travel thousands of miles to Mexico, where they spend the winter.  In the spring, the monarchs in Mexico begin to make their way north throughout the United States and Canada, going through several generations before they reach their northern-most destinations. Once there, they continue to reproduce until it is time for a new generation to fly south the Mexico.

Throughout the breeding season, MLMP volunteers across North America monitor milkweed patches weekly for monarch eggs and larvae. Volunteers choose their own sites, and the only requirement is that it has milkweed; monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed, so it must be present if you hope to find monarch eggs or caterpillars. Milkweed isn’t as prevalent as it once was, but it can still be found in gardens, parks, pastures, and roadways, so volunteers don’t usually have trouble finding a patch to observe; those that do can plant their own milkweed. In addition to counting the number of eggs and larvae that they see, volunteers also provide data on the number and types of milkweed and flowering plants at their site.

photo of MLMP volunteer

Because MLMP volunteers monitor the same milkweed patch week after week, and often year after year, they are usually extremely familiar with their site. Most can tell you off the top of their heads what species of milkweed and nectar plants they have, as well as when they come up and when they bloom; many also know which plants are the monarchs’ favorites and which are preferred by other insects.

And because monitoring for monarch eggs and larvae involves carefully examining the leaves of milkweed plants, volunteers encounter a lot more than just monarchs on their milkweed plants. From soldier bugs to milkweed beetles to aphids, MLMP volunteers are familiar with a wide variety of insects that make their home on or around milkweed. Many MLMP volunteers can use the field guide Milkweed, Monarchs and More, coauthored by MLMP Director Dr. Karen Oberhauser, to identify and learn about the flora and fauna commonly found in milkweed patches.

The book focuses mainly on plants, insects, and arachnids, but our volunteers also enjoy observing birds, amphibians, and mammals while collecting data. Participants often snap a picture of the interesting animals they see in their plots to contribute to the MLMP Photo Gallery, such as when long-time MLMP volunteer Jan Sharp found herself “eye to eye” with a tree frog perched on her milkweed, or when Diane Rock stumbled across a black bear in her milkweed patch.

Observing and learning about the plants, animals, and overall ecosystem of their monitoring site is one of the best parts about being an MLMP volunteer, but our volunteers also love that they can share that experience with others. Many of our participants monitor with children, usually their own or their grandchildren, which gives them a chance to connect young people to nature. We even have a few second-generation MLMP volunteers, people who started monitoring with their parents and now monitor their own site or have taken over the original site.

MLMP is so much more than just collecting data on monarch abundance. It’s an opportunity to get outside, to learn about a piece of land and everything that lives on it, and to share that connection with others. We’re always in need of more volunteers; if you’re looking for a chance to get outside and connect with nature, while making a meaningful contribution to science and conservation at the same time, join the MLMP!

Photo: Wendy Caldwell (larva), Gail Gilliland (volunteer monitoring)

Eva Lewandowski is a PhD candidate in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota. She is part of the Monarch Lab, where she studies citizen science and conservation education.

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Is Climate Change Causing the Seasons to Change? Citizen Scientists in the UK Help Find Out with Nature’s Calendarhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/is-climate-change-causing-the-seasons-to-change-citizen-scientists-in-the-uk-help-find-out-with-natures-calendar/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/is-climate-change-causing-the-seasons-to-change-citizen-scientists-in-the-uk-help-find-out-with-natures-calendar/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 09:00:11 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11179 Interested in more spring themed citizen science projects? Check out the ones the SciStarter team has handpicked for you here! Or use SciStarter’s project finder to find one that piques your curiosity! In 1998 Tim Sparks, a research biologist at Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridge started a pilot project designed to record […]

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A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

Interested in more spring themed citizen science projects? Check out the ones the SciStarter team has handpicked for you here! Or use SciStarter’s project finder to find one that piques your curiosity!


In 1998 Tim Sparks, a research biologist at Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridge started a pilot project designed to record the first blush of spring. Sparks saw the importance of continuous phenology records—a record of when plants start to bud and flower, and wanted to revive a phenology network in the UK. Shortly thereafter The Woodland Trust (the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity) joined forces with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to promote the scheme to a wider audience, which is how the citizen science project Nature’s Calendar was born.

Data now collected by citizen scientists in the United Kingdom using Nature’s Calendar can be compared to historical data such as the Royal Meteorological Society and Robert Marsham datasets. The Royal Meteorological Society established a national recorder network in 1875 and annual reports were published up until 1948. Robert Marsham was Britain’s first phenologist and recorded his ‘Indications of Spring’ from 1736 until his death in 1798.

Following these records more recently an amateur phenologist Jean Combes began noting when oak leaves budded each spring. She started making notes in 1947, and provided incredibly valuable information for the post-war period when climate change was beginning to become a more distinct environmental issue. Combes’ oak leafing dates have been used by scientists, government departments and research organizations interested in the impact of a changing climate on trees and wildlife. Dates from 1950 to 2012 (shown in the graph) reveal a huge advance in leafing dates over this half-century, with the very early springs from the 1990s being evident. Climate change shortens the winters.

Data collected by Jean Combes (Image Credit: The Woodland Trust)

Data collected by Jean Combes (Image Credit: The Woodland Trust)

The citizen science administrator with Nature’s Calendar, Kylie Knight says, “We write seasonal reports about the data collected through Nature’s Calendar, and many research academics have used the data for their studies. We also have a PhD student on the team, Christine Tansey who will be working with us for the next few years.”

The most recently published results date from the winter of 2013. In the report, a member of the Nature’s Calendar conservation team Sian Atkinson writes that spring 2013 was the coldest for the UK since 1962, and the fifth coldest in a series since 1910. Comparing these findings to the Hadley Centre’s records for mean Central England Temperature, (a dataset that began in 1659), shows that there were only 11 years in the whole series in which the mean temperature for March was colder.

Knight notes that currently, “the most exciting aspect of Nature’s Calendar is our collaboration with the British Science Association to find out how fast spring moves. We are asking the public to look out for some key species including first sightings of ladybirds, orange tip butterflies and the first leaves budding from oak trees. We will use this information to figure out how fast spring sweeps across the country.”

Nature’s Calendar has two seasons, spring runs from January to June and autumn from July to December. This spring, British Science Week took place from March 13 through March 22. The period was used to promote Nature’s Calendar’s work with the British Science Association to find the answer to the question–‘How fast does spring move?’ If you live in the UK and are  interested in helping answer that question as you take those early morning walks or weekend hikes, please consider signing up and annotating the oak buds in your neck of the woods, or the first orange tip butterflies that brighten your path.

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Nature’s Notebook: Through the Eyes of a Citizen Scientisthttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/natures-notebook-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/natures-notebook-citizen-science/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 09:00:11 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11170 This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the the project, Nature’s Notebook featured on our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Nature’s Notebook is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find […]

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Bobcat in Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico.  Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

Bobcat in Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico. Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the the project, Nature’s Notebook featured on our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Nature’s Notebook is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!

Here in the Chihuahuan Desert of southwestern New Mexico, I am intimate now with three trees in my backyard: a box elder (Acer negundo), a desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), and a honey mesquite (Prosopsis glandulosa). I know when these plants become luminous with the green of new leaves, when they flower, when their flowers turn to fruit, and when their fruit falls. I also have a warm relationship with a male four-winged saltbush (Atriplex canescens), having rubbed his yellow pollen sensuously between my fingers, and with a female four-winged saltbush, admiring her extravagant and seasonal cloak of papery seeds. Perhaps my greatest new friend, however, is a soaptree yucca (Yucca elata), whose single stalk grows up quickly and prominently in late spring, its buds producing a mass of scented creamy-white flowers—like a six-foot-high candle glowing in the dusk.

Across the United States, people like me are using the citizen science program Nature’s Notebook as a way to engage with the plants and animals they encounter daily or easily in a favorite natural area—a way to fall more in love with the world, even as we help track a changing world and the effects of global warming. What trees are budding when? What birds are migrating? What insects have emerged? Sponsored by the USA National Phenology Network, Nature’s Notebook has over 6,000 volunteers recording the life cycle or phenology of some 900 species. Eventually this continent-wide project hopes to combine its data with similar programs like Project Budburst and Journey North.

The Box Elder (Acer negundo)  Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

The Box Elder (Acer negundo) Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

The protocol in Nature’s Notebook is to choose and tag individual plants and check them at least once a week for young leaves, increasing leaf size, flower buds, open flowers, pollen release, fruit, and fruit drop. When I record my data online, I am further asked to estimate: “What percentage of the canopy has leaves (5–24%? 25–49? 50–74%?)?” And: “How many flower buds are present (11–100? 101–1,000? 1,000–10,000?)?” Some questions read like the dreaded word problem in a math class: “What percentage of all fresh flowers (buds plus unopened plus open) on the plant are open? For species in which individual flowers are clustered in flower heads, spikes, or catkins (inflorescences), estimate the percentage of all individual flowers that are open.” Examining a plant can take some time, which is why I have learned to tag only a few trees and shrubs. One of the great advantages of Nature’s Notebook is being able to design your personal study program. You can spend long afternoons out in the field, sun-kissed and nature-besotted, or you can organize for yourself a small project that only takes an hour or so a week.

This spring is my third year with my selected plants. Phenology is too dull a word for what is happening here. For how I must search along a stem for the smallest of leaves, peer into the heart of a bud, and rub my fingers against a catkin. This is one-to-one, a real conversation, me and this catkin, me and this honey mesquite. Moreover, as I enter into the life of this particular tree, I become aware of its larger life—the insects who feed from and pollinate its flowers, the small mammals like mice and rabbits who eat the sweet crunchy beans. With my close-focusing binoculars, I watch two lizards on the tree’s trunk, bobbing and weaving in dispute, defending their territories. On the leaves of a nearby globe mallow, I admire the stunning beauty of a leaf beetle, Calligrapha serpentina, its wing covers a metallic emerald-green with black markings or “writings” vaguely Egyptian and hieroglyphic. Above me, white cumulus clouds sail the seas of a perfect blue sky.

Soaptree (Yucca elata)  Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

Soaptree (Yucca elata) Image Credit: Sharman Apt Russel

Nature’s Notebook also has a list of animal species they would like you to document. At first—in magical thinking mode—I hoped that putting an animal on my list would increase my chance of seeing that animal. So I committed to recording information for almost every species in my area that Nature’s Notebook is interested in: American robin, American kestrel, bald eagle, bighorn sheep, black phoebe, black-chinned hummingbird, broad-tailed hummingbird, bumblebee, cabbage white butterfly, cliff swallow, great blue heron, house wren, killdeer, monarch, mourning dove, mule deer, olive-sided flycatcher, punctured tiger beetle, raccoon, red admiral, and sandhill crane. Later, tired of checking so many “no’s” on the user-friendly online data form, I limited myself to just the animals I would most likely see or hear.

I am also on the look-out for animals that Nature’s Notebook is less interested in documenting. My backyard in southwestern New Mexico is a natural area only a few miles from the three-million-acre Gila National Forest. Black-tailed rattlesnakes are very much at home on my Nature’s Notebook walk. So are javelina, a pig-like hooved and tusked native species delightfully wedge-shaped, the adults weighing about forty pounds. From a nearby irrigation ditch, I hear the bark of an Arizona gray squirrel. A few years ago, before the population was decimated by an epidemic of rabies, I might have seen a fox. Skunk, bear, and coati walk these trails along the ditch. Occasionally, a mountain lion passes by. I’m aware of presence.

To keep track of what I see, for myself as well as for Nature’s Notebook, I now keep a small actual notebook with good paper and sturdy binding. I write down leaf size and reminders to myself: “Look up wolfberry.” My middle-aged brain has trouble absorbing new information, like the identification of an unfamiliar plant, and I notice how often leaves blur into one general category. Botanical dyslexia is something I’ve always suspected but I never had an official diagnosis. So I draw the leaves of plants as a way to remember them, learning terms like simple (a single leaf growing from the stem) and compound (more than one leaf growing on a smaller stem from the main stem), ovate to lanceolate (egg-shaped to lance-like), and serrate (saw-toothed along the margin). I sketch the triangular shape of lambsquarters, prolific in my study area, and spend a few minutes serrating the leaf margins of the exotic Siberian elm to compare with the native American elm. I draw to size some of the animal tracks in the dirt, noting the leading toe and round print of a bobcat. All this fits in in my pocket like a smartphone—only better.

Data from the program Nature’s Notebook has been used to predict the expansion of ragweed, track the invasion of buffelgrass in the Sonoran Desert, and illumine changes in arctic Alaska. I am glad to be a small part of these larger discoveries. But perhaps just as important, I am also making more intimate discoveries about myself and the place where I live. I am entering into secret lives. I am making myself at home.

 


 

 

Sharman Russel SciStarterSharman Apt Russell teaches writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City and at the low-residency MFA program in Antioch University in Los Angeles.  Her recent book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World was named by The Guardian as a top ten nature book in 2014. For more information, go to her website at www.sharmanaptrussell.com.

 

 

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Spring is the Season for Citizen Sciencehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/spring-is-the-season-for-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/spring-is-the-season-for-citizen-science/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 04:27:25 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11166 Here are six projects in need of your help as you walk the dog, work in your garden, clean the gutters, or do spring cleaning. And check out these  new citizen science projects just added to the Project Finder on SciStarter. Cheers! The SciStarter Team iSeeChange iSeeChange has the charm of an old-fashioned almanac, partnered […]

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Photo: NPS

Photo: NPS

Here are six projects in need of your help as you walk the dog, work in your garden, clean the gutters, or do spring cleaning.

And check out these  new citizen science projects just added to the Project Finder on SciStarter.

iseehcangeiSeeChange

iSeeChange has the charm of an old-fashioned almanac, partnered with user-generated content and the social networking of our modern world. It’s where you can share observations about your environment to monitor change and compare notes with neighbors.

budburstProject BudBurst

When do the trees in your backyard leaf out? When do the wildflowers bloom? Are they earlier or later than last year? Project BudBurst needs volunteers across the United States to study phenology changes over time.

mlmpMonarch Larva Monitoring Project

The monarch butterfly population has declined drastically in the past decade and more people are needed to help study how monarchs vary in space and time. Monitor monarch eggs and larvae anywhere there is milkweed!
Get Started!

naturesnotebookNature’s Notebook

As climate change affects flora and fauna across the United States, citizen scientists are needed to study its impacts. You can choose from hundreds of plants and animals to observe and you can join regional campaigns focused on issues in your area.
Get Started!

snapshotsSnapshots in Time

Do you have wood frogs or spotted salamanders in your area? You‘ll learn soon enough if you participate in this project! Share your observations and help efforts to conserve these adorable amphibians.

naturescalendarNature’s Calendar Survey

Is your garden blooming in the U.K.? Did you see the first migratory bird of the season? Whether it’s in your backyard, local park, or farm field, scientists want to know what you‘re seeing and when.

Meet the SciStarter team at theAtlanta Science Festival 3/21-28!

Our next #CitSciChat on Twitter is Wednesday March 25th at 2-3pm ET,  moderated by Caren Cooper @CoopSciScoop and presented by @SciStarter.

If you‘d like your citizen science project featured on SciStarter, email Jenna@scistarter.com.

Contact the SciStarter Team

Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

Photo Credits: iSeeChange (iSeeChange), Dennis Ward (Project BudBurst), Carrie Benham (Monarch Lava Monitoring), Brian Forbes Powell (Nature’s Notebook), Peter Oxford (Snapshots in Time), USFWS (Nature’s Calendar Survey)

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White House Recognizes Importance of Citizen Sciencehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/white-house-science-fair-recognizes-importance-of-everyday-people-advancing-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/03/white-house-science-fair-recognizes-importance-of-everyday-people-advancing-science/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 14:50:23 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11152 “Citizen Science” movement gaining ground through organizations including SciStarter   PHILADELPHIA, Penn. (March 23, 2015) – Citizen science engages the public in important research, and SciStarter is leading the way for scientists, enthusiasts and students to connect and collaborate on research. Even as President Obama recognizes the intelligence and effort of students at the White […]

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“Citizen Science” movement gaining ground through organizations including SciStarter

 

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. (March 23, 2015) – Citizen science engages the public in important research, and SciStarter is leading the way for scientists, enthusiasts and students to connect and collaborate on research. Even as President Obama recognizes the intelligence and effort of students at the White House Science Fair, the White House itself is joining and supporting the citizen science movement.

The White House will showcase that anyone can participate in citizen science by committing to install a new rain gauge in the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden, becoming part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) citizen science network of over 20,000 active participants who serve as the largest source of daily precipitation data in the United States.

“We’re seeing tremendous increases in citizen science participation among both youth and adults,” said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter and a professor at Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society.  “Citizen science has been proven to advance all areas of serious research and I’m thrilled to attend the White House Science Fair this morning where the emphasis is on education and the future; a future that will be shaped by remarkable teens including  Tiye Garret-Mills, 17, from Colorado who will be honored at the White House event this morning for developing a low cost method to identify leaves. With global citizen science projects underway to identify tree species, this may become a crucial tool. Our goal at SciStarter is to empower the public by connecting them to meaningful opportunities to engage in STEM, while providing access to the tools and resources that will enhance their experience and support their valuable contributions.”

To that end, SciStarter is joining forces with Public Lab as part of a national effort to create a new Citizen Science Tool lending library and store to enable more than 50,000 people the opportunity to participate in scientific inquiry. This library and store will broaden the scope of tools available to schools and the general public for research.  SciStarter and Public Lab are working in collaboration with the Museum of Science Boston and Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society.

Quality research is important, so SciStarter is working with STEM curriculum developers and educators from the Broward County, FL School District (the 6th largest in the country), educators from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, and a distributed network of educators to align 500 citizen science projects featured on SciStarter, with Science and Engineering Practices.  The projects will be searchable by their Practice, making it easier for educators to find the projects most suitable for their environment.

This focus on exemplary practices is a key part of SciStarter’s leadership in the newly-formed Citizen Science Association (CSA).  SciStarter and the CSA are working together to align 500 citizen science projects with Science and Engineering Practices.   The CSA will highlight exemplary practices and support the integration of STEM learning objectives within citizen science projects. To further promote integration of citizen science with STEM learning, the CSA will create a way to nominate outstanding examples of projects or resources that support citizen science for STEM learning. Exemplar projects will be highlighted on both the Citizen Science Association website and SciStarter. With support from the National Science Foundation, the CSA is being shaped by the input of over 60 Association members.

 The White House called attention to these important SciStarter citizen science initiatives through the White House Science Fair Fact Sheet distributed today.

 

About SciStarter

SciStarter aims to enable people to contribute to science through informal recreational activities and formal research efforts. The web site creates a shared space where scientists can connect with citizens interested in working on or learning about joint research projects. SciStarter currently features 1,000 searchable citizen science projects and recruits participants through partnerships with Discover Magazine, the National Science Teachers Association, Public Library of Science, WHYY/NPR, Pop Warner Youth Scholars, and more.

 

 

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