New Year’s Resolution: Contribute to a Citizen Science Project

With 2017 coming to an end and 2018 ahead of us, it’s a time of renewal- a time to reflect on our experiences and consider ways to improve our lives in the next year. If you’re anything like me, you may have plans to reconnect with nature, to get more exercise, or to learn something new. Possibly, you just want to find a new hobby. The citizen science projects listed below can provide an avenue for all of these goals; you’ll be motivated to explore the outdoors, collect data, and learn about local ecosystems, while providing invaluable data to scientific researchers.

iNaturalist

Maybe you take a lot of wildlife photos, but aren't quite sure what species you're seeing, or maybe you need a handy way to keep track of your life list of species. This site, run by the California Academy of Sciences, is useful for compiling people's wildlife and plant observations, creating a set of data used by researchers and curious naturalists alike. Post your observations and receive help with identification, or just check out which species have been found near you. For sensitive species, you can even obscure their location so that only research institutions can use the data. Your observations may help biologists notice a new invasive species or a species venturing from their historical distribution. If you're interested in contributing your photos and recordings to a citizen science project, check it out!

CALeDNA

Run by the University of California, this citizen science project aims to amass a collection of eDNA samples from throughout California. Environmental DNA (eDNA for short) is DNA sequenced from water, soil, or even air, rather than from a tissue sample of the organism itself. By sequencing all of the DNA in an environmental sample, biologists can determine which species inhabit a particular area. The CALeDNA project is seeking samples from all regions of California to study how biodiversity changes over time. If you want to participate, CALeDNA will send you an eDNA collection kit and a tablet, as well as training materials. Help archive the incredible genetic diversity near you!

School of Ants

If you already enjoy studying insects, or you want a fun kids’ project, School of Ants allows you to help map the native and introduced ants in your neighborhood. The project focuses on ants in urban areas, like homes or schools. Using a standardized protocol, you can collect these often-invasive urban ants and send them to Dr. Lucky’s lab at the University of Florida, where they are identified and their information is incorporated into the lab’s database. These scientists hope to raise awareness of the diversity of ants in our backyards, as well as inform pesticide use in areas with sensitive ant species.

Bumble Bee Watch

Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to observe, identify, and track bumble bee populations in North America. You can upload photos and connect with other citizen scientists to amass data that will help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of native bumble bees. You can also access maps and galleries of previous sightings. Bumble bees are essential pollinators for agriculture, wild areas, and more urban settings, and their populations are suffering severe declines. Although their stingers might intimidate you, these insects are quite docile unless threatened, and are essential to human food production. If you see a bee, snap a picture and send it in! The site also provides tips for planting a bee-friendly garden during your springtime planting.

eBird

This collaborative project between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society provides you with information on bird abundance and distribution, a library of birdsongs, and an online record of all the birds you’ve ever observed. After identifying birds you see during an outing, you simply record when, where, and how you observed them. As one of the largest biodiversity databases in the world, eBird is an incredible resource for scientists and birders alike. In California’s own central valley, Cornell researchers examined bird movements in order to explore the idea of protecting critical migratory habitat during specific time frames, rather than year-round.

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