You may have noticed that we’ve been a little quiet on the blog and Twitters lately. That’s because we spent the better part of the week in Portland, Oregon, for the Conference on Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR for short), held in conjunction with the Ecological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting.
I’ll be writing more in the next couple weeks about the fascinating research I heard about at ESA – neat work on indoor ecology and the bacteria and fungus-amongus, diamondback terrapins crossing the runway at JFK airport, and the consequences of artificial light at night on birds, bats and bugs.
But I digress – The Conference on Public Participation in Scientific Research was a 2-day extravaganza convening over 300 uber-enthusiastic participants to share, reflect, improve and celebrate the practice of citizen science – a veritable citizen science rodeo, if you will.
I marveled at the diversity of projects represented by the participants at the meeting.
There were familiar programs like Project BudBurst and the Community Collaborative, Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) where citizens monitor and share observations about organisms and environmental phenomena, participating in long-term ecological and meteorological research.
There were projects like Galaxy Zoo and foldit that are engaging participants through their computers, harnessing the power of our collective cognitive surplus (a fancy way of describing the free time, energy and brain-power our modern lives afford us) to classify galaxies and figure out the optimal folding structure of proteins.
There were projects like Grupo Tortuguero and Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS)that emerged directly from local communities. With DIY-tools, mobile technologies, and grassroots organizing, citizens have been empowered to research and tackle environmental problems where they live.
The main currency of the PPSR meeting – unlike a lot of other conferences that we science and outreach-types go to – was posters. It was so fun and energizing to wander through row after row of colorful, poster-clad bulletin boards and chat with folks who are as excited to share their work and experience as we are.
A handful of posters and conversations during the three (!) poster sessions caught my attention as something I thought our Your Wild Life peeps would like – these projects all shared the common theme of exploring and noting the nature in the places where we live.
- Compost Scavengers – Scott Smedley from Trinity College in Connecticut has been observing the vertebrate scavengers visiting backyard compost piles in eastern Connecticut since 1998. Like the Great Chicken Coop Stakeout, Scott uses wildlife cameras to catch pics of unsuspecting visitors. He’d like your help monitoring the camera images to identify and count animals as they forage from compost piles. And be sure to check out the project’s great online Field Guide to Compost Visitors.
- Picture Post – Annette Schloss at University of New Hampshire and colleagues would like your help monitoring the environment where you live… using a camera! Participants in Picture Post use a digital camera to take photos in a consistent, sequential order from a fixed location every one to two weeks. Photos are uploaded to a website and are analyzed to monitor changes in the site (for example, seasonal changes in plants like flowering time and leaf-out) over time. I’m thinking your backyard could be an interesting place for a Picture Post!
- The Dragonfly Swarm Project – Chris Goforth, aka The Dragonfly Woman and the new manager of citizen science at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, wants your help investigating dragonfly swarms – the beautiful and fleeting phenomena happening in our backyards and neighborhoods every summer. Surprise, surprise we still know so little about this curious behavior – Get involved and report your observations! And be sure to check out her blog for the Swarm Sundays feature to find out where in the world dragonfly swarms have been observed this past week!
And this is just a tiny smattering of the AWESOME projects I learned about at the PPSR meeting. If you’re interested in the practice of citizen science, I strongly encourage you to visit the PPSR Conference website to learn more about the people, presentations, posters and projects showcased during this tremendous two-day gathering – I guarantee you’ll be as jazzed as I was about what you learn!