Search Results for: citizen science

Citizen Science and Biodiversity: Thoughts From a Meeting With the European Citizen Science Association

Image Credit: NPS Photo, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

A collection of biodiversity researchers from across Europe came together in Brussels for a unique kind of meeting last week. We were connected by two common threads: first, we are all supported by BiodivERsA, a large network of European biodiversity research projects funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. And second, most importantly, we are all interested in connecting our biodiversity research with citizen science in one form or another.

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Mapping Species Distribution with Citizen Science

 Community, or citizen, science is a huge, often untapped data source for ecologists. So what are the pitfalls of using it? (Image Credit: Jacob W. Frank, NPS, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Image Cropped)

Occupancy models for citizen-science data (2018) Altwegg & Nichols, Advances in Modelling Demographic Processes, 10, p. 8-21

The Crux

Species distributions maps are great. I remember rifling through animal encyclopedias as a kid, checking out the distributions of my favourite animals, just assuming that people knew exactly where to find all these organisms. But the reality is that figuring out exactly where species live is extremely difficult.

It’s made easier, however, by the use of citizen (or community) science. This occurs when volunteers involve themselves in projects in which they observe and report the presence or absence of a species in a given area, which is then used to determine a species’ distribution. This data is obviously incredibly useful to any ecologist, but it comes with some drawbacks. This paper attempts to summarise those drawbacks and outline ways to work around them.

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Matt von Konrat: Harnessing Community Science

Matt von Konrat has been using community science at the Chicago Field Museum to generate data that it would have taken years for a single research team to produce, and engaging the public at the same time

Image Credit: Matt von Konrat, Chicago Field Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

Public engagement is something I’ve spoken about at length with the scientists I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to. However communicating better with the public is one thing; actively getting them involved in the scientific process is another. Matt von Konrat, of the Chicago Field Museum, has led an ambitious project which has successfully involved thousands of Americans from all walks of life in the scientific gathering of data. The result? Millions of specimens quantified, and thousands of people left with a better understanding of science.

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A Secret Ecosystem Under the Snow: The Winter World of the Subnivium

This fox has tracked down his next meal by listening for sounds in the subnivium. Image Credit: Yellowstone National Park, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Image Cropped.

Sometimes the hardest places to access are the most interesting places to study. Take the subnivium, a temporary ecosystem that forms each winter in the small space between the snowpack and the ground.

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Thoughts on ESA2019: Inclusion, Biodiversity Data, and Twitter

It was easy to feel inspired about ecology with this view from the conference hotel.

It’s been two weeks since the 2019 Ecological Society of America conference and I’m still collecting all my thoughts about the meeting. My experience at ESA was, as they say, a little like drinking from a firehose: there was an enormous number of exciting talks, sessions, workshops, and networking opportunities, and I inevitably had time to experience only a fraction of them.

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Tim Robertson: The World of Ecological Data

Image Credit: GBIF, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped

When I was a child, I’d often study books of Australian birds and mammals, rifling through the pages to see which species lived nearby. My source of information were the maps printed next to photos of the species, distribution maps showing the extent of the species range. These days, many of these species ranges are declining. Or at least, many ecologists believe they are. One of the problems with knowing exactly where species exist or how they are faring is a lack of data. The more data we have, the more precise an idea we get of the future of the species. Some data is difficult to collect, but yet more data has been collected, and is simply inaccessible.

At the Living Norway seminar earlier this month I sat down with Tim Robertson, Head of Informatics and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. GBIF is an international network that works to solve this data problem worldwide, both by making collected data accessible and by helping everyday people to collect scientific data. I spoke with Tim about the journey from a species observation to a species distribution map, the role of GBIF, and the future of data collection.

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Modernising Ecological Data Management: Reflections from the Living Norway Seminar

Ecological data is constantly being collected worldwide, but how accessible is it?

Ecological data is constantly being collected worldwide, but how accessible is it? (Image Credit: GBIF, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped)

This week Trondheim played host to Living Norway, a Norwegian collective that aims to promote FAIR data use and management. It might sound dry from an ecological perspective, but I was told I’d see my supervisor wearing a suit jacket, an opportunity too preposterous to miss. While the latter opportunity was certainly a highlight, the seminar itself proved fascinating, and underlined just how important FAIR data is for ecology, and science in general. So why is it so important, what can we do to help, and why do I keep capitalising FAIR?

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Erica McAlister: On the Appreciation of Flies

Dr. Erica McAlister of the British Natural History Museum recently released The Secret Life of Flies, an exploration of the more fascinating side of the fly (Image Credit: Erica McAlister, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)

The Norwegian ForBio conference occurs once a year, and brings together a large collection of biosystematics experts from the Nordic countries. Biosystematics being a bit outside my field, it’s not something I’d generally attended, however this year it was 250m away from my office, so I considered attending. But what tipped me over the edge was the presence of Dr. Erica McAlister of the British Natural History Museum, who in late 2017 published The Secret Life of Flies, a brilliant expose on one of nature’s traditionally less sympathetic taxa.

Erica’s talk was fascinating, replete with stories of lost artifacts, mosquito sex and David Attenborough. Afterwards, I got the chance to sit down and chat with Erica about everything from the problem with honeybees, to the beauty of mosquitoes to issues with a certain Jeff Goldblum character.

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Populations Can’t Grow without Homes

Sea otters are one of many charismatic species found along the California coast, yet recovery doesn’t seem to be helping them. Is it something about their habitat that is preventing population growth? (Image Credit: Mike Baird, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Gaps in kelp cover may threaten the recovery of California sea otters  (2018) Nicholson et al., Ecography, DOI:10.1111/ecog.03561

The Crux

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fur trade was a massive industry in North America. As a result, many species were hunted and trapped to near extinction. The California sea otter (Enhydra lutris) was reduced in population to less than 50 total individuals. The enactment of the Internation Fur Treaty allowed the species (and others) to come back from the brink of extinction, and they now number over 3200 individuals and are spread across 525km of the California coast. Interestingly, although the population is recovering, it has not bounced back as quickly as other protected mammals living in the same habitat. The California sea lion, for example, has a maximum population growth rate more than twice that of the sea otter (11.7% compared to 5%).

Despite the remarkable recovery of the species, the sea otters occupy less than a quarter of their historic range and have not expanded along the coast in 20 years. The authors of this paper wanted to investigate what it is about the sea otters and their habitat that is slowing this population’s growth rate and spread along the coast.

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Gretta Pecl: Climate Change in Coastal Waters

Gretta Pecl, founder of the Redmap project, which aims to demonstrate tangible effects of climate change to Australia's fishing community

Image Credit: Gretta Pecl, University of Tasmania, CC BY 2.0

So often the effects of climate change are somewhat intangible to us; the weather may grow warmer, but it’s a slow and gradual process, which can seem entirely at odds with the alarm bells that things like the IPCC report seem to be constantly clanging. As such, demonstrating tangible environmental changes to a community whose livelihood may depend on such changes is a great weapon in the fight against the effects of a warming climate.

With this in mind, marine biologist Gretta Pecl founded the Range Extension Database and Mapping project, also known as Redmap. Redmap aggregates public sightings of fish to show shifts in the distributions of Australia’s marine species, including some that are crucial to our fishers. At the recent ASFB 2018 conference, I sat down with Gretta to talk about changes in marine species distributions, how they’ll affect Australia, and how they might help the public understand the effects of climate change.

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