How to be a cit­i­zen sci­en­tist

Any­one with a smart­phone and in­ter­net ac­cess can help sci­en­tists mon­i­tor the health of ecosys­tems and an­i­mal habi­tats. LEONARD CRONIN pro­files some of the ways you can con­trib­ute valu­able in­for­ma­tion

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

e cho­rus frogs in the big la­goon Would sing their songs to the sil­very moon

These lines by Banjo Pater­son of­ten come to me on sum­mer evenings when our res­i­dent am­phib­ians be­gin their noc­tur­nal ser­e­nades. I must con­fess, how­ever, to hav­ing dif­fi­culty iden­ti­fy­ing the own­ers of the quacks, pops, cricks and croaks.

Lis­ten­ing to frogs is one thing, but lo­cat­ing them in the dark is an­other. One way is to en­list the help of two friends to sur­round the call­ing frog, tri­an­gu­late its po­si­tion and close in to­gether on the agreed spot. My pre­ferred tech­nique, how­ever, is to whip out my smart­phone, click on the Aus­tralian Mu­seum’s cit­i­zen sci­ence FrogID app and make a short record­ing of the frog. This clever app asks ques­tions about habi­tat and gives me a choice of likely species to lis­ten to. Back home, I can add notes and pho­tos, then up­load the record­ing to the FrogID team, who pos­i­tively iden­tify the frog and add the in­for­ma­tion to their data­base.

My first ex­pe­ri­ence us­ing the app re­sulted in an email from a FrogID ex­pert in­form­ing me that I’d man­aged to record a cho­rus of in­sects! I’ve since logged quite a num­ber of species but nowhere near the 938 sub­mis­sions of the top frog­ger.

I be­came in­ter­ested in cit­i­zen sci­ence a few years ago after stum­bling upon the re­sults of The Aus­tralian Bird Feed­ing and Wa­ter­ing Study, a joint ini­tia­tive by Deakin Univer­sity in Vic­to­ria and Queens­land’s Grif­fith Univer­sity. Lit­tle was known about the ef­fects of feed­ing and wa­ter­ing birds in Aus­tralian ur­ban ar­eas, so the re­search team set up a web­site and ad­ver­tised for gar­den­ers around Aus­tralia to con­trib­ute to a se­ries of on­line sur­veys mon­i­tor­ing birds that vis­ited their back­yard feed­ing ar­eas and bird­baths. To the sur­prise and de­light of the team, about 3000 peo­ple joined in, lead­ing to re­search pa­pers and much-needed guide­lines around bird­baths and back­yard feed­ing sta­tions.

A COL­LAB­O­RA­TION

Cit­i­zen sci­ence was born in the

1990s when it be­came clear that, to bet­ter un­der­stand the nat­u­ral world, sci­en­tists needed to col­lab­o­rate with non-sci­en­tists to col­lect data and en­list their help to an­a­lyse the re­sults.

The ad­vent of the smart­phone and fast in­ter­net ser­vices saw a boom in cit­i­zen sci­ence pro­grams. There are now thou­sands of projects around the world, with an es­ti­mated 3.75 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants.

Many of these in­volve gath­er­ing data about the dis­tri­bu­tion and abun­dance of plants and an­i­mals, while oth­ers en­gage peo­ple in the ob­ser­va­tion of as­tro­nom­i­cal ob­jects and phe­nom­ena, or cyclic events such as the ef­fects of global warm­ing in dif­fer­ent geo­graph­i­cal ar­eas. There are games and com­pe­ti­tions, projects that re­late to your back­yard, pro­grams that in­volve schools, and plans to en­able cit­i­zen sci­en­tists to par­tic­i­pate in space ex­plo­ration by de­vel­op­ing pay­loads to fly on sub­or­bital ve­hi­cles.

New species and as­tro­nom­i­cal ob­jects have been dis­cov­ered through cit­i­zen sci­ence. We are learn­ing about dis­tri­bu­tion and mi­gra­tion pat­terns of an­i­mals, the im­pacts of cli­mate change and land use, while gain­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how and why peo­ple in­ter­act with wildlife.

Peo­ple tak­ing part in cit­i­zen sci­ence projects are get­ting hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence with prac­ti­cal sci­ence and en­gag­ing with pro­fes­sional sci­en­tists. I’ve been hav­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing time, from record­ing frogs around my gar­den and the neigh­bour­hood to sur­vey­ing lo­cal birds, spot­ting koalas and echid­nas, and join­ing a lo­cal seashore bioblitz. I’ve even spent time help­ing to clas­sify corals on the Great Bar­rier Reef, and map­ping brain neu­rons.

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