Archive for the ‘Insects’ tag
Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. Adventure is calling!
This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.
“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”
National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action through a more robust educational initiative, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.
“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.
This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges ahead—political, economic, environmental, or otherwise—National Geographic aims to show its next generation of stewards why its 397 parks encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.
“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”
In July of 2009, a friend and I arrived at a lake to collect water samples for work. We had worked at the lake many times, but something was different that day: several hundred dragonflies were flying over the grass.
We often saw dragonflies, but there were 50 times the usual number and they weren’t in their usual places. We knew something exciting was happening, so we jotted down notes. I returned to the lake twice to record more observations of the swarm and simply appreciate the marvel of nature that I witnessed. Then they were gone.
That experience changed me. I am an aquatic entomologist with an interest in dragonfly behavior, but that swarm captured my attention like nothing else. I needed to know more about it! I looked into the scientific literature to find answers, but discovered that little is known about dragonfly swarms.
Ever seen little points of light buzzing around outside on summer nights? Those lights – fireflies – are beetles that create light through a chemical reaction. By controlling the reaction, fireflies can turn on and off their lights. They flash light to communicate and find a mate.
Fireflies may be disappearing from some areas where they have been found in the past, so researchers are looking to citizen scientists for help understanding more about what is affecting fireflies.
Changes in the way we use land might be taking a toll on fireflies. For example, as natural landscapes are turned into lawns, fertilizers, pesticides and mowers may jeopardize fireflies, which spend daytime hours on the ground. Fireflies might also be affected by outdoor lights such as streetlights and the amount of water in the environment.
The Firefly Watch project gets the public involved collecting data about where fireflies are found. If you live east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and have ten minutes a week to look for fireflies in the evening, consider signing up as a volunteer.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Lindsay from Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, an estuarine site in the state of Maryland about 20 miles east of Washington, D.C.
Jug Bay leads citizen science research on macroinvertebrates–small, bottom-dwelling animals without backbones that can reveal a great deal about the health of their watery environment.
Take it away, Lindsay!
Lindsay, tell us what you do at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary.
I’m Lindsay Hollister, Naturalist and Volunteer Coordinator, and I help with research projects, stewardship, and outdoor education.
What project will you be showcasing at the festival?
Macroinvertebrate Monitoring–using stream insects and other aquatic invertebrates to determine stream health.
What can people expect at the Science for Citizens booth?
We will have a display of live and preserved specimens of what we find during our sampling. Participants can search through bins looking for live macroinvertebrates and practice identification too. We’ll show the field equipment we use as well.
What is your favorite part about working in citizen science?
The creativity. Our volunteers participate because they want to give back and they love science. They are always happy to be here, and they even devise their own investigations and projects sometimes!
For those citizen scientists in the western states who like staying up late, here’s your chance to spy on some winged mammals for science. Two monitoring projects still need your help observing and listening for bats this summer.
Citizen scientists in Seattle are needed to help researchers determine what types of bats are chirping in the forest near Seward Park. The researchers provide the monitoring devices and software but they need your help to actually collect the data. You’re also welcome back in the lab to analyze your findings using Sonobat software, a program that lets researchers visualize and analyze bat calls. (This is only one of the many citizen-science projects taking place at the Seward Park Audubon Center.)
Farther north, researchers at the Alaska Bat Monitoring Project need help from observers all over the state. Citizen scientists are asked to take note of when and where they see bats across Alaska. Five kinds of bats are thought to live in Alaska, and previous reports from volunteers have helped scientists get a better idea of their range. However, researchers would like to better understand where bats live during the summer. This is where you come in: If you see a bat, try to figure out what kind it is using pictures on the website, and then send in your observations to the Alaska Bat Monitoring Project.
Surveys such as these are crucial, as bats are important for keeping insect populations under control. According to Bat Conservation International, most bats are insectivores, and a single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour! Other bats that feed on fruit or nectar are helpful pollinators and seed-dispersers. Unfortunately, many factors, from destruction of habitat and food sources to outright killing by humans, coupled with a slow reproduction rate have led to a global decline in bats. Recently, a mysterious white fungus, called “white-nose syndrome” has been particularly devastating to bats populations. Researchers are still unraveling the reason for this outbreak, but have not been able to halt its spread.
According to the Organization for Bat Conservation, the best time to spot a bat is on a warm summer evening just after the sun has set. Remember, bats like to eat insects, so look for places with lots of flying critters (and don’t forget the bug spray for yourself). With your help, researchers hope to gain a better idea of how many bats are left and where they live.