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Posts Tagged ‘Citizen Science’

On a Thursday!

  • First, something that put a smile on my face. One of my posts was included in the most recent edition of Scientia Pro Publica (Science for the People) blog carnival! There are plenty of great blog posts about science in this edition about everything from drunk bats and venomous mammals to discussions of the peer-review process. So go check it out!
  • Cosmic curiosity reveals ghostly glow of dead quasar– discovered through the citizen science project Galaxy Zoo!
  • Do you ever get sad from reading about endangered species and losses of biodiversity? Then you must read Back from the Brink: Victories in Conservation over at Southern Fried Science. It discusses a recent paper in Science which shows conservation efforts are helping to slow extinctions. I couldn’t help but notice that a few of the success stories they highlighted are in part thanks to zoo breeding programs, including that of the the Asian Wild Horse. The Minnesota Zoo played a significant part in their recovery, and here’s a great video on that story.
  • And related to my rant yesterday, I think the paper mentioned above supports how important scientific publications can be, especially considering the paper provides evidence that conservation efforts work and need more support. In addition, one of the co-authors is none other than the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Bear Biologist David Garshelis. He is also co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, and was recently on The Colbert Report sticking to his story that he’s not afraid of bears. Videos below!
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I’ve had zero time to blog lately. Hopefully, I will have some time by the end of this week. But, I did still get the chance to put together a quick links for this week!

  • It’s almost Halloween! If you will be giving out candy this Halloween, make sure it doesn’t contain non-sustainable palm oil that harms Orangutans and other wildlife by following the Orangutan Friendly Halloween Candy Guide (.pdf file). You can learn more about Orangutans and the Palm Oil Crisis here.
  • More reasons why I wish I had a smart phone: What kind of beetle? This app knows.
  • New tools use citizen science to monitor wildlife diseases and human health.
  • From the Star Tribune: The Bear Whisperer. An in-depth look into Lynn Roger’s and The Wildlife Research Institutes’s Black Bear Research. However, I don’t think the article fully delivers on the “But not everyone agrees with methods of Lynn Rogers” aspect of the story and the controversies surrounding this research and bear hunting. I may write more on this if I get enough time in the near future.
  • In my last Quick Links, I asked if anyone could name the favorite plant of Carl Linnaeus without looking it up. No one answered! I’ll give you all one more chance to answer (you can even look it up this time- but then you have to add some extra info you find interesting :)). Either way, I’ll write up a post this weekend with the answer.

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Two things I love the most about citizen science are:

  1. science starts with an observation.
  2. Humans spend a good percentage of time “observing.”

That means average citizens might be observing phenomenon that scientists are looking for every day. Tapping into non-scientists’ observations has great potential to advance science and lead to interesting questions.

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

From Wikipedia

Case in point: When Freddy Johansen, a tourist on a whale watching boat, took a photo of a humpback whale off the coast of Madagascar in 2001, he had no idea it would break a record for these long distant travelers. Because back in 1999, researchers had photographed the same whale. However, that photo was taken off the coast of Brazil. That’s a 9,800 kilometer journey at least and more than twice the distance of the typical seasonal migration! The previous record sat near 9,400 kilometers.

Additionally, this whale was a female. This is surprising because female whales travel much shorter distances than males, and the only other humpback known to travel from the South Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean was male.

This new record has researchers questioning how much we really know about whales. Some scientists are wondering if this indicates that migration patterns are changing in response to the previously endangered species’ recovery. From Nature News- Humpback Whale Breaks Migration Record:

Daniel Palacios, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says … Behaviours often change as population densities grow; for instance, animals may disperse to avoid competition for food…

The female could have been following prey, exploring new breeding habitats, responding to distant calls, or simply wandering astray. “We generally think of humpback whales as very well studied, but then they surprise us with things like this,” Palacios says. “Undoubtedly there are a lot of things we still don’t know about whale migration.”

Now you might be wondering why everyone is talking about this now when the photos were taken in 1999 and 2001. Are scientists really that inefficient? Not quite.

Spot patterns on whales' tails can be used like human fingerprints to identify individuals. Photo taken by Freddy Johansen

Back in 2001, Freddy Johansen didn’t know about the Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog that researchers use to compare photographs of spot patterns on whales’ tails and determine if they are of the same whale at different locations. However, he did recently upload his photo to Flickr where one whale researcher (Gale McCullough of Allied Whale: see her comment below!) often checks for such photos. Connecting these two photos lead to this record-breaking discovery and Freddy Johansen becoming a coauthor on a scientific paper.

Pretty cool if you ask me, and if you have any clear photos of whales’ tails like the one above, you can also submit them to the Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. I wonder what other types of photos could be floating around the internet or in someone’s scrapbook with the potential to change what we know and make a scientist out of an unsuspecting citizen.

Quick Update 2:

Not only did the internet allow Gale McCullough to find Freddy Johansen’s photo, it allowed Freddy and Gale to find what I wrote! They both commented below, so be sure to check out the link to Freddy’s photo on Flickr with his retelling. Also, take a look at the comments on his photo and get a glimpse of how the story unfolded!

Gale also provides a great background story and explains how all the pieces fell into place for this discovery (read the first comment on the photo).

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I recently discovered twitter. I had of course heard of it before and occasionally stumbled over there. But now that I’ve actually signed up and am using it, I am overwhelmed by the flow of information. There is so much to read!

Anyway, here are some links I’ve stumbled across recently. I know I wanted to add more, but I’ve read so much that I’ve lost track of them…

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Male (right) presenting grasshopper to female

Image via Wikipedia

 

Kestrel Watch of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center is trying to solve a mystery:     

Since about 2000, The Raptor Center has seen a precipitous decline in the number of kestrels admitted to the center; from 107 admissions in 2000 to only 22 last year (see chart in Statistics).  At the same time, admissions of Cooper’s hawks have doubled, from 54 admissions in 2000 to 114 last year.  At this point, no one knows whether these findings are correlated, or even whether the reduction in kestrel admissions represents a decline of the species in the wild…     

Graph From Kestrel Watch

    

Through Kestrel Watch, The Raptor Center hopes to decode the rapid decline in American kestrel admissions.  To join Kestrel Watch, all you need to do is brush up on your observation and reporting skills.  When you see a kestrel, record the day and time of your observation.  Make note of what the bird was doing.  Was it hunting? Perched? Feeding?  How many kestrels were there?  If you feel comfortable identifying the bird’s gender, report that, too.   

You can submit your observations and photos on the Kestrel Watch website. They also have great information on identification and natural history. You can even see on a map where others have spotted Kestrels.    

    

I checked out the HawkCounts for Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN, and it looks like Kestrels should be migrating through that area until early November. Kestrels also stay year round in southern Minnesota. But you don’t have to be in Minnesota to participate. Observers have been reporting in from all over the Midwest.     

  

While I was at the Hawkcount website, I also checked out the number of Kestrels seen migrating through Hawk Ridge since 2000. I even made a quick line graph because I’m a dork cool like that.    

   

From the graph, it seems that the number of observed American Kestrels migrating through is decreasing. However it is variable and dependent on the number of hours of observation, weather, ect. Their data goes all the back to the 70’s, but I wasn’t feeling that ambitious (all the data is online though if you are interested).  I was going to also graph the number of Cooper’s hawks observed to compare with the Raptor Center’s data. However, Cooper’s Hawks don’t  migrate much to the north of Lake Superior so they only see up to a couple hundred per year at Hawk Ridge.   

  

So, Are American Kestrels being taken over by Cooper’s hawks, or are Cooper’s hawks just becoming more accident prone while Kestrels are getting smarter? What do you think? Whatever the case, The Raptor Center doesn’t know and needs your help to find out.    

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On Saturday, I went to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge to help with their annual, open to the public duck banding. The refuge is on flat terrain and is mostly wetlands because it lies on the bed of glacial Lake Agassiz (named after Louis Agassiz: the original glaciologist).

Banding programs for waterfowl help scientists and managers make decisions on hunting regulations and estimate survival rates, migration routes and other biological information. Because of the wet conditions in the region, there was an above average number of ducklings hatched this year. Agassiz is one of Minnesota’s Important Bird Areas with 294 species of birds.

 

Overlook at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge- very flat

 

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