Citizen Science

By Jody Einerson, OSU Extension Service Benton County

Participating in Audobon Christmas bird counts is a great way to get involved in citizen science!

 

As a steward of your woodland, do you ever wish you could leave a lasting legacy for generations to come?  Of course you probably have family that you hope will benefit, but what about a legacy for an even larger audience.  One way to do this is to participate in citizen science projects.  What is citizen science?  Citizen Science Central out of Cornell University gives this working definition, “projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions.”

Citizen science projects can range from small local studies, to broad reaching national projects. Common availability of computers and the internet have allowed these large national projects to take hold, and invite the public to contribute to a bank of knowledge that can be accessed by scientists for future studies.   Many of the large scale projects revolve around collecting weather or phenology data.  Phenology is the scientific term to describe the study of natural events that occur periodically in relation to climate and seasonal change.  Examples include bird migrations, bud break on plants, fall leaf drop, invasive species spread, or insect life cycles.  The wide spread collection of phenology data can enable scientist to identify broad ecological patterns and follow trends over time.  
Most national citizen science projects involve periodic or regular observation of the natural world, something you are probably already doing each time you visit your woodland.  Advanced scientific knowledge or study is not required, just a real interest in observing the world around us.  Training to participate in citizen science programs can be as simple as learning species identification skills and following protocol from internet based projects, to participating in personalized training to learn specific monitoring techniques.  Equipment needed is minimal; generally tools like a field journal & pen, binoculars, and identification guides.  Techies can sometimes incorporate smart phones and GPS technology.

By contributing regular observations of ecosystem patterns on your landscape you can enrich regional or national databases for scientific study.  This is perhaps the only practical way for scientists to document pattern changes on a large geographic scale.  This will be the lasting legacy that you can leave for future generations, the background data to understand the changing patterns in the world around us.  And what a gift to involve the next generation in your citizen science project!  
Watch for future articles to get more information on specific projects and to get you started.

Sources:
Quote from Citizen Science Central, Cornell University http://www.birds.cornell.edu/citscitoolkit/about/definition

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