Looking for something to do around your yard or neighborhood over the next couple of weeks? Consider becoming a full fledged citizen scientist! All you need is a phone, your peepers, and the desire to discover.
What is Citizen Science?
Although the term citizen science is relatively new, amateur scientists and hobbyists have been observing and contributing to the collective knowledge about our surroundings for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the late 1800s when science became professionalized that there was a distinct difference between a scientist and a citizen with extensive experience. The definition of citizen science has evolved over time. The most recent interpretation states:
Citizen Science - "scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions” (Oxford Dictionary).
The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is one of the oldest ongoing citizen science programs in the U.S. The group has been gathering data from volunteers led by an experienced birder since 1900.
Scientists use data collected in Christmas Bird Count surveys to better understand bird populations in the United States. In 2019, a Science article detailing bird population declines made headline news. That research was made possible by the Christmas Bird Count and other long-term datasets, many of which are volunteer-driven.
Application and Importance
Many gaps in science still exist by the mere fact that we don’t always have the capacity to observe over long periods of time or over enough different locations or situations. Citizen science can help fill in some of these baseline and long term monitoring gaps. It has also led to the discovery of new species. For example, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County initiated a biodiversity project, called BioSCAN. This project is the largest urban biodiversity study in the world. The project provides insect traps to LA residents. After analyzing backyard bugs from residents in 2015, scientists were able to describe 30 new species of insects.
There are also many organizations and agencies, like National Geographic, the EPA, U.S. Forest Service, and others that provide grants for citizen scientist discoveries and exploration. The more eyes we have observing the world around us, the more likely it is that someone will accidentally run into something new.
Citizen Science Programs You Can Do Anywhere
As long as you're following best practices for social distancing, you and your family can absolutely help researchers collect data about all of the natural activity happening around your home.
Apps & Online Platforms
- NeMO-Net - Help NASA classify coral reefs by painting 3D and 2D images of coral in an iPad game
- Zoouniverse - Contribute to academic research in over 50 active online citizen science projects
- Monarch Larva Monitoring - Collect data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat
- I See Change - Personalize, measure, and track climate change impacts
- iNaturalist - Record encounters, crowdsource identifications, find a citizen science project, run a bioblitz
- BudBurst - Record observations of the timing of plant life cycle events to help uncover how plants are affected by human impacts on the environment.
- eBird - Record sightings, plan trips, find birds, track your lists, explore range maps and bird migration
- iSeaHorse - Upload photos and observations to help protect seahorses from overfishing and other threats.
- SciStarter - Connects people to citizen science projects
Local Citizen Science Programs in Sarasota & Manatee
Whether you’re into birds, trees, turtles, or bees, there are many local programs that are actively compiling data from citizen scientists. Sarasota-Manatee scientists and managers count on citizen science observations to monitor and better understand wildlife, water quality, plant communities, and more in the Sarasota Bay watershed. Read on below for examples of these programs and details about how to get involved. (Please note that several of these projects may be on hold during the COVID-19 epidemic.)