Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Citizen Science—Joining the Ranks of Darwin and the Comte de Buffon

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

September 2, 2011

Citizen Science—Joining the Ranks of Darwin and the Comte de Buffon

by Cathy Keddy, MVFN Program Chair

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series on natural history and biology is set to begin September 15th. Attendance records were broken at the lecture series last year. Talks this year will once again be held at the Almonte United Church, and are open to the public as well as MVFN members. You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike should find something to interest them as the series explores what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

The lecture series theme this season will be Trends in Fauna and Flora. Lectures will include a wide range of topics such as citizen science, ‘deceit’ in nature, flying squirrel battles, plants invading in our county, and tuning up for spring birds.

The first lecture, “Citizen Science Networks: Linking Nature Observation with Conservation,” will be presented by Marlene Doyle, Science Officer with Environment Canada. Marlene has worked for many years with citizen science approaches to ecosystem monitoring, assessment and reporting. Doyle is currently coordinator of the national NatureWatch program and is the Canadian representative on the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program Terrestrial Expert Monitoring Group.

Citizen scientist networks are groups of volunteers who collect natural heritage information which is shared with those involved in decisions impacting the environment. For volunteers, it’s as easy as using your eyes and ears to track changes in nature. Citizen scientists have the rare opportunity to participate in cutting-edge biological research, to help with monitoring and protecting ecosystems, and to gain insight into ways scientists unravel the mysteries of the natural world. Thanks to the observations of citizens, scientists understand environmental changes better. As a citizen scientist, you join the ranks of famous citizen scientists such as Charles Darwin and George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.

Many will be familiar with the Christmas Bird Count surveys that are carried out in our region each winter. That is citizen science. In fact, the National Audubon Society initiated this survey over 100 years ago to make use of and organize bird sightings of amateur naturalists. Originally comprised of 27 volunteers at 25 locations, this citizen science network is now continent-wide with more than 50,000 volunteers reporting from over 2,000 locations. Such information obtained over the long term and based on consistent methods is highly reliable and of great value to scientists for assessing species trends and conservation needs.

A more recent citizen science network, set up in 2008, addresses the decline in honey bee and native bee populations. Volunteers have been enlisted all over the world to observe bees on their Lemon Queen sunflowers (recently, also wild plants). Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and a great resource for bees. It has been discovered that on average the flowers are visited by pollinating bees every 2.6 minutes. This means your garden is doing better than average if you see more than 3 bees every 15 minutes. If you observe fewer bees in that time then your garden has poor pollinator service. Over time, your observations and those of others helps build up an accurate picture of global trends in bee populations and their effects on the vital pollination of garden plants, crops, and wild plants.

If the birds and the bees are not your forté, perhaps you have an interest in catching scuttle flies to assist scientists with genetic research, or in monitoring monarch caterpillar distribution. Or perhaps you could get involved in Project Budburst that tracks the timing of leafing, flowering and fruiting of plants, or bat monitoring, or Icewatch, or the Lost Ladybug Project, or Firefly Watch, or the Garlic Mustard Field Survey… Even on a rainy day, you could contribute to a better understanding of the natural world from the comfort of an armchair by sifting through the pages of a ship captains’ data logs from a voyage made during the 1780s to 1830s to find historic weather data, or by examining star brightness charts to detect changes, or simply by letting your computer detect strong-motion seismic events. As you have probably gathered, fantastic opportunities to contribute as a citizen scientist abound!

There is no need to be bored—after retirement or at any time—become a citizen scientist! There is a worthwhile project for you and likely a new group of friends. Talk to Marlene Doyle about opportunities for participating in citizen science work to support conservation at her MVFN presentation “Citizen Science Networks: Linking Nature Observation with Conservation,” at 7:30 pm Thursday, September 15 at the Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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