In our changing world, citizen science plays an important role in answering significant scientific questions. This growing field depends on engaged volunteers who are able to collect data on a broader scale than traditional research methods can achieve. Their contributions deepen scientific knowledge, help monitor natural systems in a time of rapid environmental change, and support findings that can inform conservation practices and policy. Citizen scientists of all ages also feed their own curiosity and build skills as they learn about the organisms they study and how science works.
Citizen science is well-established at the UW–Madison Arboretum. For many years, volunteers have helped address long-term scientific questions in local, regional, or global projects. Recently, we have also added new projects and programs to monitor particular species—often in response to emerging ecological challenges, such as imperiled native species or new invasive species. Here are some of the projects you can join.
- Journey North, one of North America’s largest citizen science programs, tracks migrations and seasons and provides an easy entry point to citizen science for people of all ages. Reported sightings are mapped in real-time as migration waves move across the continent. People report sightings from the field, view maps, take pictures, and leave comments. Journey North has moved to the UW Arboretum.
- The Arboretum collaborates with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and The Xerces Society on bumble bee monitoring and conservation. Volunteers use photography to document bumble bee species, floral resource use, phenology, and nesting.
- Arboretum staff, volunteers, and UW scientists monitor Asian jumping worms in the Arboretum and throughout the state to determine how these invasive species spread, how they might be controlled, and how they affect soil and plant communities.
- The Arboretum monitors dragonflies and their habitat. Volunteers document the presence of adult dragonflies throughout the flight season (May–September) at Arboretum ponds and wetlands.
- The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is jointly coordinated by the Arboretum and the Monarch Joint Venture. Volunteers and staff monitor monarch egg and caterpillar abundance on milkweed plants at two Arboretum sites, and support and train citizen scientists throughout the monarch breeding range in North America.
- Snapshot Wisconsin, a WDNR program, is a statewide volunteer-based wildlife monitoring program using trail cameras. The Arboretum hosts two cameras to help us learn about animal behavior here. The photos become part of a statewide database.
- In collaboration with the Rock River Coalition and the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District, volunteers are collecting vital information related to the health of streams that flow through the Arboretum into Lake Wingra.
- Since 1988, monitoring of bluebird nest boxes at the Arboretum has fostered and traced the recovery of Eastern bluebird populations.
- Arboretum rangers, naturalists, and volunteer stewards monitor phenology following Aldo Leopold’s studies from 1935–46. This enduring practice provides valuable information about seasonal changes in plants and animals and addresses questions about impacts of a changing climate.
- Avid birders collect data on breeding and migratory birds at the Arboretum, and many other locations, and submit to eBird, a global tool for the birding community.
- The Arboretum is a partner in the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey, which monitors the status, distribution, and long-term population trends of Wisconsin’s twelve frog and toad species. The survey is sponsored by the WDNR, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey and the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program.
- The WDNR relies on citizen scientists to help monitor bats at many sites statewide, including the Arboretum.
Often, web-based portals facilitate data entry and communication between project leaders and citizen scientists, and results are available to a world-wide audience. In most environmental projects, the focus is on data collection and data entry. Here are some additional projects that may be of interest: eBird, USA National Phenology Network, Wisconsin Bumble Bee Brigade, Water Action Volunteers, Invasive Species Early Detection Network, Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network, Budburst.