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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Citizen Science


Nature’s Best by Elma Chapman

Citizen science

Citizen science.That’s a new term to me, but I like it. It’s been around for a while apparently, but somehow I missed it. It refers to scientists collaborating with citizens to collect data to answer science-related questions. Scientists can’t be everywhere at once and travel is expensive, but citizens with an interest in a particular field can assist in the research. Particularly now with the internet, data can be collected and shared rapidly all over the world.

A week ago I attended a Citizen Science Night where we learned about sandhill cranes and the Crane Watch (see last week’s article), the Hoosier Riverwatch program which monitors water quality in our rivers and streams, and FrogWatch USA. Saturday I followed up on the Frog Watch information by attending a training session at the Ft. Wayne Children’s Zoo.

The Scientific American webpage (www.scientificamerican. com/citizen-science), lists many projects that citizens can be involved with. Some require training, others don’t. Some involve special equipment, but many do not. Some projects are local, and some are international. You can report earthquakes (not common in LaGrange County, but they are felt here once in a while), report the weather, sample air quality, watch and count birds, observe clouds, take and upload a video of you playing with your dog, explain what makes your baby laugh, or watch zombies. No, make that ZomBees. It’s about bees that have been parasitized and behave in a zombie-like manner. Just Google “citizen science” to find these and many more projects.

My first citizen science project took place before I was familiar with the term. This winter I participated in the Indiana Audubon Society’s Winter Bird Feeder Count. Pretty simple: watch and count the species of birds at your feeder for a week in November, December, January, and February and send the information in at the end.

For FrogWatch I had to attend a four-hour class at the zoo. We were shown how to record and report the data we collect, we were told why the data is important and what will be gleaned from our data, and we listened to recordings of the nine species of frogs and two species of toads that are found in Northeast Indiana. After that we had to pass two tests. The first test was open book and/or notes and not very hard. The second test was a little trickier. They played the frog and toad calls and we had to identify the caller. It wasn’t as hard as it sounds, really. Biodiversity is a good thing, but I’m glad I only had 11 calls to learn! And at the end we were each given a CD with the sounds identified on it so that we could practice at home before we went out to listen. The one thing that is a little intimidating is that when you are sitting out at a wetland listening, the frogs are not going to be cooperating and singing distinctly and one at a time. It’s more likely to be a cacophony of various frog calls all at once.

FrogWatch does not require any special equipment aside from things you probably already have at home, like a thermometer to record the air temperature, a flashlight, and pen and paper. The forms you fill out with the data are all online; the training session, materials, and CD were all free; and the training session was interesting and fun.

It has to warm up a little more before the frogs and toads are active, so be looking for my report from the wetlands of LaGrange County in a future column.