I wanted to write a bit more on citizen science because it is such a cool concept and I keep seeing more and more papers published with data collected by everyday people (i.e. nonscientists). In fact, scientists in Massachusetts were able to use records collected by people in the Massachusetts Butterfly Club– just a group of butterfly-loving people. And what did those butterfly lovers do? They conducted nearly 20,000(!) surveys of butterflies from 1992-2010. That’s almost 20 years of constant data on butterfly species, locations, and abundances! Pretty amazing. What can you do with all those data? They were able to show that species are shifting their ranges northward, most likely due to warmer temperatures. Specifically, butterflies typically found in the north were declining-even those that were once common- while those in the south were expanding their ranges and increasing in numbers, including the protected Frosted Elfin.
Citizen scientists have also been active monitoring bumble bees in their backyard gardens. Bees are a great insect for citizen scientists to monitor because most people can identify a big fuzzy bumble bee and a honey bee (which you can do if you are involved in ZomBee Watch!). The Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the UK has had a citizen science program for people to record the bumblebees in their backyards. They recently published a paper in the Journal of Insect Conservation on its success. Not only did citizen scientists collect photos and information about Bumble bee species in their backyards, but also information on bee nests and nesting behavior! This is a great participation scheme because the citizen scientists were able to learn as much or as little about Bumble bees as they wanted- from just taking photos to documenting different colonies in the backyard nests. From the data collected by citizens scientists, the researchers were able to show that 1. there isn’t much evidence that bumble bees nest in the same spot year after year and 2. that a once common bumble bee declined relative to other bumble bees.
Overall, these two studies have shown that citizen participation in science is a worthy endeavor for both researchers and citizens. Everyday people get to learn about nature in their backyards, while scientists get to exploit the observation powers of millions of people- with real outcomes for conservation.