Science is not just for scientists. In our changing world, citizen science can play an important role in answering significant scientific questions. This growing field depends on volunteers who participate in research, monitoring, and data collection to deepen shared knowledge and achieve results that scientists could not accomplish on their own.
Often, web-based portals facilitate data entry and communication between project leaders and citizen scientists, and results are available to a world-wide audience. Many citizen science projects involve classification and pattern recognition (eg., Phylo, Zooniverse, Ancient Lives, Foldit, and Eyewire). In most environmental projects, the focus is on data collection and data entry (eg., eBird, Bumble Bee Watch, phenology, water quality monitoring, invasive species early detection).
At the Arboretum, citizen science is not a new enterprise. For many years volunteers have helped address scientific questions through participation in local, regional, or global projects. Here are some examples:
- Arboretum rangers, naturalists, and volunteer stewards monitor phenology following Aldo Leopold’s studies of 1935–46. This enduring practice provides valuable information about seasonal changes in plants and animals, and it continues to address questions about changing climate. In addition, Earth Partnership has phenology curriculum guides for educators.
- Since 1988, bluebird nest monitoring has fostered and traced the recovery of American Bluebird populations. See the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin for information.
- Community volunteers monitor water flow and salinity in local freshwater springs ringing Lake Wingra.
- 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 actively collaborates with The Xerces Society and Bumble Bee Watch on bumble bee monitoring and conservation. Interested volunteers document bumble bee species, floral resource use, phenology, and nesting. To get involved, contact Susan Carpenter.
- The Arboretum also participates in the Dragonfly Pond Watch monitoring project, which is part of the Xerces Society Migratory Dragonfly Partnership. Through regular monitoring and centralized reporting, the partnership seeks answers to questions about dragonfly migration and fosters conservation. To get involved, contact Brad Herrick.
- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources monitors bats at many sites statewide, including the Arboretum. See the Wisconsin Bat Program website to learn more about their projects.
- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey and the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program, also sponsor the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey. Its primary purpose is to determine the status, distribution, and long-term population trends of Wisconsin’s twelve frog and toad species.