Archive for the ‘trees’ tag
Human beings are remarkably capable animals when it comes to pattern recognition. The human ability to quickly and accurately recognize recurrent patterns is a skill that numerous citizen science projects have put to work on large, difficult data sets. Galaxy Zoo uses these skills to assist with the morphological classification of galaxies. Pattern recognition and also spatial reasoning contribute to the success of the protein folding project Foldit. Another project aims to take advantage of these human skills and, like Foldit, does so with a game.
Fraxinus is a game created by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) to help researchers address ash dieback in the common ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior). Players attempt to match a nucleotide sequence to a reference genome to look for sites of variation. The game was designed for the social media platform Facebook and allows users to play the game as they would any other on the site. However, this game provides more than entertainment. Fraxinus also provides scientists with small pieces of data that can be aggregated to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms that protect some common ash trees while others perish.
With more than 10,000 puzzles to solve in the game there is a significant amount of work for citizen scientists, but already each of these puzzles has been examined, according to a recent report on the game. Now that each puzzle has been looked at, players will begin to “steal” patterns from one another, in an attempt to increase their game score, and at the same time they will help refine sequence patterns, which in-turn provides better quality data for researchers.
You can learn more about the background for the project, including the basic science, and Fraxinus with Dan MacLean, Bioinformatics at Sainsbury Laboratory, here.
Ashley Rose Kelly is a Ph.D. candidate in the Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media program at North Carolina State University. Ashley studies how emerging technologies may be changing science communication. She also teaches scientific and technical writing courses as well as an introductory course on science, technology, and society. You can find Ashley on Twitter as @ashleyrkelly
SciStarter has a whole round-up of tree-related projects for you this season. Branch out into citizen science!
Walking around my neighborhood the other day, I was casually observing the local flora when I was struck by the redness of one particular set of leaves. While the tree pictured is not the exact one I spied upon, look at how vibrant these colors are! I began to wonder why this tree turned red while the others around it stayed orange and yellow. To begin, we must learn about why autumn leaves deviate from their greener shades in the first place.
As you probably already know, the color that most plants have is derived from chlorophyll, the yellow-green pigment found in chloroplasts responsible for allowing photosynthesis to take place. If you’ve forgotten how this process works, Crash Course Biology has a great video for this. While there are multiple forms of chlorophyll, it is generally true that most reflect green light, causing for plants to appear the way they do. (This raises the even better question of why aren’t plants black, but that deserves its own post.)
So, what happens to the chlorophyll as we approach the cooler months? When the temperature drops, deciduous plants slow the production of chlorophyll in preparation for the dormant period they will undergo during the winter. The plants will then be able to conserve energy by halting all photosynthetic processes during the lack of available sunlight. As this happens, orange and yellow carotenoids present in the leaves are exposed. These are pigments that are normally produced in leaves that help to absorb additional energy from the sun that is passed along to the chlorophyll and also to prevent auto-oxidation (basically the wear down of cells due to free radicals) from occurring. In addition to all of this, the plant begins to produce a cell wall between the stem and the leaf called an abscission layer. This will eventually cause for the leaf to be completely separated from the plant, allowing for it to fall to the ground.
Okay. We’ve covered green, orange, and yellow, but what produced the scarlet beauty found above and why doesn’t it occur in all trees? The answer is anthocyanins. If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, or any other fruit that can stain your hands and clothes, you’re probably already familiar with these little molecules. These pigments are similar to the carotenoids mentioned above but serve a different purpose. In cases during the late summer when plants are beginning to slow their photosynthetic processes but there is still plenty of sunlight abound, the leaves can actually be harmed by receiving too much high-intensity light in the region of Photosystem II (photoinhibition). In order to prevent this damage, the plant begins to synthesize anthocyanins to permeate through the leaves’ surfaces. Because of its red color, the pigment absorbs a large amount of the high energy visible and ultraviolet photons striking the plant, basically acting as a “plant sunscreen.” (Check out how you can even build your own anthocyanin-based solar cell!) Additionally, anthocyanins are good indicators of plant stressors including freezing temperatures and low nutrient levels.
Next time you see a particularly red tree, make sure to think about its environment! Does it receive an abundance of light? Has it been particularly cold? Feel free to comment with links to your own pictures of vibrant trees and plants!
Just like leaves, citizen science also happens to grow on trees! Don’t believe us? Check out our tree projects round-up!
Photo: Public Domain Pictures, Wikipedia
This was a guest post by Joe Diaz, a science educator and enthusiast. Follow @RealJoeDiaz. View the original post.
Sara Fitzsimmons is the Regional Science Coordinator at The American Chestnut Foundation
The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to restoring the American chestnut (Castanea dentate) to its original range. Once estimated to be 25% of the Appalachian forests, the species was all but eliminated from the landscape by an imported fungal disease caused by Cryphonectria parasitica, the chestnut blight fungus.
Since 1983, TACF has been working with volunteers and citizen scientists to breed disease-resistant trees and return them to the landscape. The program involves a minimum of six breeding generations, each of which requires labor-intensive controlled pollination to make the seed, and about 5-10 years to grow the trees and properly select them. To work through the entire breeding pipeline, then, takes a large amount of resources, and about 35 – 60 years!
A program such as this would not be possible without the many hands, minds, and legs of citizen scientists. TACF volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds – from salesmen to engineers, farmers to doctors and teachers – all of whom can bring a unique perspective to the program and enhance TACF’s work in a multitude of ways.
Over the past 25+ years, 1000s of volunteers have bred various generations of trees and grown tens of thousands of trees on their land. While breeding is the backbone of TACFs work, and there is continued need for more growers, citizen scientists have not only participated in, but also initiated, some unique programs.
Participating in PhillyTreeMap, one of the newest projects in the Science for Citizens Project Finder, is almost as simple as fetching the morning paper from the front “stoop,” as we say here in Philly.
This morning, I opened my front door, walked 10 feet to the nearest tree (pictured here), wrapped a measuring tape around its trunk, snapped this picture, and simply uploaded the picture and trunk width online. THAT’s how simple it was to help the City of Philadelphia take an inventory of trees.
In the process, not only did I learn we have Honeylocust trees lining our street but that these trees provide these yearly ecological benefits to my region:
Total Benefits: $318,804 saved. How? Greenhouse Gas Benefits: 554,597lbs CO2 reduced ($2,797 saved); Water Benefits: 3,928,345 gallons conserved ($38,890 saved); Energy Benefits: 184,521kWh conserved ($265,389 saved); Air Quality Benefits: 4,677lbs pollutants reduced ($11,726 saved).
Here’s how this works and why it’s important according to the software developers at Azavea:
PhillyTreeMap is an open-source, web-based map database of trees in the greater 13-county, three-state Philadelphia region. The wiki-style database enables non-profits, government, volunteer organizations, and the general public to collaboratively create an accurate and informative inventory of the trees in their communities. The project was funded by a USDA Small Business Innovation Research Grant, and is in support of the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation’s 30% tree canopy goal, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s “Plant One Million” campaign. As more trees are added to the database, we are able to use software from the US Department of Agriculture to calculate the environmental impact of the region’s urban forest. So get outside and add some trees!
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to plant three trees during a Casey Trees community tree planting event in Washington, D.C. On that freezing cold December morning, I got to thinking: how do trees survive the winter months? Is there anything can we do to make it easier for them?
Well, it turns out that caring for trees is indeed a year-round commitment, including winter months. The steps we take now will help ensure that trees will be around for years to come. There are several opportunities to help researchers monitor and protect trees: Urban Forest Map, TreeWatch, The Great Yew Tree Hunt, Seward Park Hemlock Tree Monitoring and other projects listed in the Science For Citizens Project Finder.
If you’re a tree lover, Casey Trees just released its Winter Almanac, which provides some great tips to ensure that your trees are healthy and ready to flourish this spring.
The almanac includes information on the importance of inspecting for broken branches, how frequently to water trees, how to protect them from pesky deer, and when to prune. Check it out and good luck winterizing your trees!