Archive for the ‘ecology’ tag

Exploring the Biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands As “Darwin for a Day”

By November 22nd, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Comment

Dig into even more Thanksgiving projects with your friends and family!

Endangered Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki)

Endangered Galápagos Sea Lion Zalophus wollebaeki on Isabela Island

Imagine: After months of treacherous sailing across the open ocean, skirting coral reefs and rocky shores, you alight upon lush tropical islands greeted by enticing aromas, unknown species, and a symphony of bird song…

Four years into her circumnavigation of the globe, the HMS Beagle carrying 24-year-old Charles Darwin landed in the Galápagos Islands forever changing our understanding of biodiversity and species evolution through natural selection. The Galápagos Islands are famous for their vast numbers of endangered and endemic species, rich biodiversity, and isolated Pacific location. Yet, invasive species and human development threaten their existence. Could exploring Darwin’s living laboratory be as simple as a virtual visit?

Research, as well as travel, in the Galápagos Islands is difficult due to its remote location and expense. In Darwin for a Day, a partnership between the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Google Earth Outreach Team, Catlin Seaview Survey and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), citizen scientists can virtually explore the best-preserved tropical archipelago in the world from the comfort of home.

What do I see? A blue-footed booby perhaps?

What do I see? A blue-footed booby perhaps?

Using innovative technology, Google Maps surveyed the Galápagos Islands and their marine environments in May 2013 to create a virtual, 360-degree experience that can be explored through the web. Grab your Darwin hat and moleskin as you select the island you wish to explore, zoom in to street view (much as you do when getting directions to your local pizza place or coffeeshop) then document the unique natural history by describing what you see – plant, animal, reptile, bird, fish. Just as real-life scientists record their data, observations can range from simple descriptions to detailed scientific names and technical information. Images and data are shared with CDF scientists and the iNaturalist community to help characterize the islands, monitor species diversity, and record changes to these delicate ecosystems.

“This is a unique opportunity to spearhead technology science for conservation and public awareness about the importance of the Galápagos ecosystems in a changing world.” according to Daniel Orellana, CDF’s head of Human Systems Research. “The outcomes of the project will allow CDF and GNPD to count on valuable information for research and the continued conservation of the Galápagos Islands.”

Since its launch in September 2013, Darwin for a Day has recorded nearly 600 observations of over 100 different species. As more citizen scientists participate, the data will be used to develop conservations strategies ranging for educational programs to responsible land management and ecotourism strategies without harming these unique ecosystems.

After feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, why not make a date with Darwin for a Day and explore the exotic and far off wonders of the Galápagos Islands? The blue-footed booby and Galápagos sea lion send their thanks.

This project is also part of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Images: Charlesjsharp & Google


Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.

Hunting for Bugs at BioBlitz

By October 31st, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Comment


They found paper wasps, cactus flies and fruit flies. They saw dragonflies and butterflies zooming about. And when they peered into bushes like hackberry and creosote they saw ants, termites and ground beetles living underneath. They even found beetles in an old soda can.

That’s just some of what students of all ages found on Insect Discovery Tours, part of the BioBlitz event in the Arizona desert of Saguaro National Park on October 21, 2011. Check out the slideshow below to see what Insect Discovery Tours were like.

“It scares me when the flies try to land on me,” said one student. But the encounters with insects left most kids more excited than scared. Another student described the experience as “awesome!” It was a sunny and hot day in the desert, the type of weather that drains one’s energy, yet students asked if they could go back to the desert to look for more insects after lunch.

“For me these tours are fun because nature is fascinating and never ceases to delight,” ecologist Dr. Cara Gibson remarked after the event. Dr. Gibson was one of the scientists leading Insect Discovery Tours with students. “It is such a wonderful opportunity to share this. The Sonoran Desert is a very special place with a lot of interesting and extreme organisms,” she added. She was excited to see so much interest from citizen scientists during BioBlitz.

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Tracking the Wild Horseshoe Crabs of New York

By August 23rd, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Comment

Spawning horseshoe crabs (photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Spawning horseshoe crabs (photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service)

On June 1, 2011 at 11:51 PM, a group of people assembled on the beach in Northpoint, New York. There was no moon shining that night, not even a sliver. The people carried flashlights or wore headlamps. They held clipboards and paper.

Their mission: to report where horseshoe crabs were spotted along the beach.

This was just one of several places along New York’s shoreline where people collect data about horseshoe crabs. Volunteers also amassed on dark beaches in Stony Brook, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Westhampton. In all, volunteers monitored the comings and goings of horseshoe crabs at ten New York beaches that night.

They are a part of the New York Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network, a group of citizen scientists who are documenting where horseshoe crabs emerge from the water to lay eggs along beaches in New York State.  On specific dates through the spring and early summer, participants collect data about the number of horseshoe crabs and identify their size and sex. They attach tags to the horseshoe crabs bulky exoskeleton and look for tags from prior years.

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