April Is Citizen Science Month!

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Are you curious about the natural world? Do you want to make valuable collective contributions that advance scientific discovery and support initiatives locally and globally? Are you interested in making a difference and contributing to important research – and having fun learning about nature while doing it? Enter citizen science!

Citizen science projects have gained significant momentum in recent years, revolutionizing the way scientific research is conducted. From collecting data about the quality of freshwater to tracking species migrations and so much more, citizen science projects vary in scale, scope, tasks, and involvement level. Yet they all rely on collaboration between scientists and volunteers, working together to advance scientific knowledge and deepen our understanding of the natural world. At the heart of citizen science lies the essential component of volunteer involvement, which plays a pivotal role in shaping the success and impact of these projects.

Each year, a cadre of Arboretum citizen scientists log hundreds of hours – gathering data, participating in experiments, and tackling big questions on a local and continental scale. The Arboretum has a range of projects on various topics, including dragonflies, fungi, chloride monitoring, bluebirds, milkweed, and monarch larvae, to name a few. Many involve monitoring species and site conditions. Volunteers come from diverse backgrounds, bringing a range of perspectives, experiences, and local knowledge.

Person in neon yellow reflective jacket kneeling above a stream and collecting data with an instrument held in the water.
Arboretum staff collecting data for the springs chloride monitoring project.

Through their participation, volunteers develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and become stewards of their surroundings. This heightened awareness often leads them to increase civic participation, environmental advocacy, and informed decision-making within their communities. Citizen science volunteers develop valuable skills in data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Many projects, like those at the Arboretum, provide training and educational resources, thus empowering volunteers to become advocates for scientific literacy and promote lifelong learning.

The Arboretum bluebird trail offers one example of the impact of citizen science contributions. The “trail,” a collection of wooden nesting boxes located in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, is home to many bird species throughout the breeding season. Volunteer Sylvia Marek, with the support of Arboretum administration and other volunteers, began the trail in 1988 to help restore the declining bluebird population. For over 35 years, Sylvia and other volunteers have been recording the number of nests, eggs, and fledglings of bluebirds and other birds using the boxes.

Male bluebird perched on the top of a wooden nesting box
Male bluebird perched on the top of a wooden nesting box.

From 1998 to 2023, a remarkable 885 bluebirds have fledged from Arboretum boxes. These data are used to monitor bluebird populations and inform related research projects, education, and outreach initiatives at the Arboretum and beyond. Sylvia’s longstanding dedication to the bluebird trail – likely one of the longest running trails in the state – is a testament to how citizen science volunteering can have tangible restoration and conservation impact.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just curious about the natural world, there’s a citizen science project out there for you to join – and your contributions make a difference in scientific knowledge and discoveries.

Are you interested in being a part of a citizen science project at the Arboretum? Email Annie Isenbarger or visit our citizen science webpages to learn more.

—Annie Isenbarger, citizen science coordinator