Citizen Science and Bioblitz Brings Planet Activism to Everyone

At a time when we may need to rely on bake sales in the U.S. to fund scientific research, community activism is picking up steam and maybe some of the slack. Although most of us don’t have deep pockets, we do love nature and being outdoors. Citizen science is a growing movement to encourage the public to get involved in collecting data for scientific research. Did you know that data collected from citizen scientists has contributed more than 77 percent of studies on birds and climate change?

capturing humming birds in a nest with citizen science

I sat in on an animated discussion about citizen science recently at the Climate Reality Leadership training in Denver by Gillian Bowser, a research scientist at Colorado State University. “Biodiversity is not necessarily declining but shifting,” said Bowser. “It’s the small things that are shifting ecologically and our phones have the power and ability to date and identify these shifts.”

It’s hard to measure a trend without a lot of effort. Now with the power of Smart phones, we can harness the community and technology to document how climate is changing and affecting biodiversity. documenting a honey bee found during citizen science event

The key to engaging a community, said Bower, is learning what the community is interested in, and understanding our peers. To measure change, we need to first understand where that community is coming from.

Bowser’s research also seeks to understand how to engage the wider community and involve more diverse populations in citizen science. Diversity amplifies a greater voice, and our stories can help to transcend politics.

It struck me how a simple idea such as getting the public involved in scientific research could transform cultural attitudes about nature. These joyful acts of being in the natural world and collecting data might just turn us all into planet activists.

Having technology at our fingertips designed specifically for this purpose is key to turning us all into volunteer scientists. I learned about a couple apps – iNaturalist and Project Bud Burst. If you’re looking for some ways to get involved in citizen science, here’s an organization to get you started. National Geographic list 10 apps and projects to help you dive in.

As the citizen science movement is picking up steam, the research is accelerated during bioblitz events around the country. Bioblitz is citizen science on steroids. It’s an all-hands-on-deck event to identify as many species as possible – plants, animals, insects, microbes, fungus – in one location over a 24-hour period.

Although not a new concept, a bioblitz can engage diverse populations in the sciences using the power of citizen science to document ecological changes in different regions and climate zones. It’s a powerful tool for educating the public about the importance of protecting natural areas and preserving biodiversity.beautiful wildflowers are documented with citizen science

This is precisely what the National Geographic and National Parks Service had in mind when they teamed up last year to create bioblitz events all over the country (and also to celebrate the NPS centennial).

I found a short video about a bioblitz with Bowser, scientists, educators and students at the Bandelier National Monument last year as part of the centennial celebration.

Last summer, Bowser and her colleagues received a half million-dollar National Science Foundation grant to broaden participation and diversity in ecology with the use of citizen science and bioblitz events.

“Everybody brings a different view and culture to the table,” said Bowser. “African American, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans are extremely underrepresented in the sciences. As a whole they only represent about eight percent in the sciences, yet they are almost 30% of the population.”

Researchers and budding citizen scientists from different cultures and backgrounds came together for a common purpose. To bring new perspectives and learn a new appreciation for the natural world.

Author: Kathryn Thomsen

Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. Kathryn is a social entrepreneur, consultant, researcher, writer and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.

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