This April, volunteers will look to the skies to report arrivals of migrating birds and insects, such as monarch butterflies. Some will search wooded areas to discover and document mushrooms and other fungi. And others will wade into wetlands, streams, and lakes to test the water quality and explore the diversity of the aquatic world.
Citizen science is an expanding field of research and practice that seeks to increase knowledge about our natural world through collaborative endeavors among scientists, researchers and the public. Projects vary in their design, topic, scope, and scale.
The UW–Madison Arboretum is excited to join SciStarter and other partners from around the world to honor the many volunteers who participate in citizen science projects. There are many ways to become involved! Help us to take the pulse of the planet by becoming a citizen scientist. Together we are making scientific discoveries and identifying science-based approaches to ecological restoration and land management.
No matter where your interests lie, there’s almost certainly a project out there waiting for you! If you’re unsure about where to start, try searching for a project on websites like SciStarter, Zooniverse, and the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network.
Spotlight on Arboretum Citizen Science Projects
In the spring and fall, ruby-throated hummingbirds can travel 500 miles and cross international boundaries. In fall, monarchs follow the cues of shortening days and aging milkweed to trigger their iconic journey to overwintering sites in Mexico. Much was unknown about these long-distance migratory species, but citizen scientists have helped fill in research gaps by monitoring phenological events such as spring first arrival dates and initiation of breeding behavior.
It takes the orchestrated efforts of many people submitting local data to better understand broader migration patterns, breeding success, effects of climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem health, and more. The Arboretum is just one research hub of thousands across the continent to investigate and monitor the natural world, driving the preservation and restoration of these natural systems and inspiring conservation action on other private and public lands. Citizen science is integral to fostering the land ethic that requires us all to play a part in deepening our understanding of the natural world that leads to greater engagement and awareness.
There are countless opportunities to become engaged and foster your own land ethic at the Arboretum and beyond. You can join any of the following projects this spring; some have upcoming training sessions.
Now in its twenty-eighth year, Journey North tracks migration and seasonal change. Harnessing the power of hundreds of citizen scientists across North America, Journey North monitors the migration of monarch butterflies, six species of hummingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, common loons, Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles, barn swallows and American robins. Volunteers also report on the emergence and presence of milkweed and other nectar-rich plants. This crowdsourced data helps inform conservation action locally, regionally, and internationally.
Register with Journey North to submit observational data.
Fungal Diversity Project with the Madison Mycological Society
Discover the exciting world of fungi! We’ll talk about the biology and ecology of fungi and tips for identifying fungal diversity in our community. Learn how to participate in the project using photography and iNaturalist to document your observations. Upcoming training: Tuesday, April 20, 6–7 p.m.
The Arboretum relies on volunteers to help survey dragonfly diversity and habitat quality. Gain the knowledge and skills needed to participate in this citizen science project and monitor dragonflies in your community. No experience required. Upcoming training: Saturday, June 5 1:30–3 p.m.
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project
The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project tracks monarch eggs and larvae across North America during the breeding season. Volunteers report data on monarch and milkweed density and can also contribute to partner projects on parasitism. No experience required. Upcoming training: Saturday, June 12, 10–3 p.m. (includes a one-hour break).
—Nancy Sheehan, Journey North coordinator, and Julia Whidden, citizen science coordinator