By Tyler Gillette
Do you frequently go to the same park? Do you perhaps run or walk the same route every day? Have you ever wanted to help with science but did not think you could contribute? Do you love bird watching or wildlife viewing in your freetime? If you answered yes to any of these questions, citizen science is the new hobby for you!
Citizen science is a relatively new way to basically crowdsource scientific observational data. Now that most people have a smartphone or even a computer, technology has allowed for anyone to be able to collect from and add data to observations. It allows for communities to come together to contribute to the scientific community. It makes scientists’ jobs easier because they can use data collected from people all over rather than collect it all themselves. Many citizen science websites and applications have been used in scientific publications. It also gets people out and involved with the outdoors, and it makes people care more about their community and environment. This is especially important for teaching environmental education and conservation to the public, especially children because if you get outside more and become more connected and more knowledgeable about nature, you begin to value it more.
It is as easy as identifying what plants and animals live in your backyard. Today, there are numerous ways to get involved on a global, national, state and local level. It also only takes a minute or two to make an observation and add to the scientific community. You can also do your own “citizen science project.” For example, my eagle scout project was a BioBlitz ,which is a day where you get people to make a large list of all the species of organisms in a given area. The park then used this list to help with management purposes. Mine was done at Bill Yeck Park in Centerville, Ohio. Here are a few popular citizen science websites and apps that anyone can use.
iNaturalist is a global citizen science website that allows for you to identify plants and animals, so that experts and other iNaturalist users can verify your identification. You
learn more about nature from interacting with others, getting outside, and adding more observations. Then, scientists and agencies can use that data to see where organisms are and are not. You can download this app on your smartphone and start making observations and putting organisms on the map. This is an application that you can use anywhere. If you look for Oxford, Ohio, the main areas that have data are Hueston Woods and the natural areas. See my photo on right for a map of Miami using the iNaturalist app.
If you are an avid birder, this app is for you! It allows you to record what birds you have seen and puts it on a map. You can use maps to find bird hotspots. It also allows you to keep track of birds that you have seen and have not seen. Your sightings can be shared and you can connect with other birders. These records help scientist with bird populations, distribution, and other data. This app can also be downloaded on your phone and used anywhere.
USA National Phenology Network (Nature’s Notebook): https://www.usanpn.org/
This website and app is all about finding a single spot and keeping track of observations to see seasonal changes since it is used to look at phenology. Phenology is the study of animal and plant life cycle events that change over the course of the year or years. This events include bird migrations, flowers blooming, and when animals mate and are born. It is used as an indicator of climate change. If you frequent one park or you like to sit in your backyard, you can keep track of how different organisms change throughout the year. It also is a way to see if an organism is in that area or not. The USA National Phenology Network is a network of scientists, agencies, educators, and citizen scientists. The citizen scientist part is the Nature’s Notebook, which allows you to set a spot and add observations. I have set observation spots in Ohio, Texas, and Galveston. You could find a spot here at Miami or at Hueston Woods. It has numerous resources to help you find certain changes in organisms so that your observations can be more credible and useful. They also have resources to train you in becoming a local phenology leader to teach others in your community. You can also host phenology events.
Ohio Lake Management Society (Citizen Lake Awareness & Monitoring Program): http://olms.org/citizen-lake-awareness-and-monitoring/
If you are a boater, live near a public lake, or you spend a lot of time on the water, you can contribute to the collecting of data on Ohio’s lakes. All you need is a Secchi disk (a black and white disk on a rope used to see how clear a lake is), a water color chart, and a thermometer. You just follow the society’s guidelines, fill out the data sheets, and send them in. They have resources on how to collect this data and other types of data that isn’t the main target. This data is used to look at water quality of lakes in Ohio. You could even do this for Acton Lake at Hueston Woods.
ODNR Citizen Science: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/education-and-outdoor-discovery/citizen-science
There are other more technical surveys that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has that citizens can help get data on. They are the Ohio Frog and Toad Calling Survey, Breeding Bird Atlas II, Bowhunter Survey Spider Survey, and The Ohio Dragonfly Survey.
Global Citizen Science Projects (Scientific American and Zooniverse): https://www.zooniverse.org/ and https://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/
These websites have lists of different citizen science projects all over the world that you can be a part of and help contribute to the collection of data.
These applications and websites are designed for anyone to help contribute. So, the next time you are walking through Hueston Woods, Miami’s Natural Areas, or just hanging out in your own backyard you can help gather data and make a difference. You can even host an event to get people on campus to learn more about an app and go use it.
Image by Tyler Gillette.