Innovative Ecological Research Tool: Citizen Science and Great Lakes

The participation of volunteers in ecological studies and projects has been increasing directly aiming at biodiversity conservation and management (Dickinson, 2010). The field of ecological studies has expanded in geographical scales and requires centralized monitoring . Citizen science allows for “large, coordinated” (Dickinson, 2010) ecological monitoring and data collection that uncovers many ecological patterns, useful to scientist (Shirk, 2012). Ecologists aim to addressing and finding solutions to environmental alters that are harming specific areas, like the Great Lakes.

Citizen science projects are not new to science or research. For centuries, scientific data collection were obtained by amateur naturalist and outdoor hobbyists that contributed to many astrological and ornithology science (Dickinson, 2010). In the past decades, citizen science projects have been popularized through developments in technology and the Internet.

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Volunteers participating in an ecological monitoring  – Source: Cerulean Centre

 

In the Great Lakes region, among other geographical areas, ecological field studies range in size and include a broad range of species, including all forms of life. Efforts of ecological studies seek to address any changes in the ecosystem, like; climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, changes in species richness and populations, infectious diseases and changes in biogeochemistry (Dickinson, 2010). The processes of citizen science has influenced awareness of Great Lakes and other regions. Citizen science invites the public to be actively involved in the scientific  projects and data collection of ecological research.  The development of new technologies allow for the increasing potential of human observations by the public.

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A map of the Great Lake Region- Source: Conservation Ontario: Natural Champion Citizen science has been accounts of growth in macro ecology and landscape geography in areas like the Great Lakes. There have been accounts of citizen science finding rare or new organisms in the area, native and invasive species.

In the Great Lakes region, organizations such as “Citizens Scientists” and “Conservation Ontario: Learn About The Great Lakes”. In particular, “Citizens Scientists” are exclusively volunteer-based, that focus on monitoring, education and awareness of various watershed sites in the Rouge River . Citizen science organizations focuses on enhancing learning and is dedicated in making a difference in local communities by supporting regional stewardship education (TRCA, 2016). Communual, regional and federal partners allied with educators, researchers and the public convened in local and regional meetings – among other leadership partners, like governments and academic institutions. These meetings and conferences serves to strengthen public and spread awareness about issues or ecological field research across the Great Lakes. These initiatives help ecologists and the public to understand the Great Lakes and any disruptions in the region. For the public or any amateur naturalist it is a great opportunity to engage communities in Great Lakes science studies (TRCA, 2016). By committing and support from allied partners, the future for Great Lakes citizen science will allow for the increase in scientific literacy and public understanding of the  species protection, effects of climatic change, habitat loss and fragmentation and population disruptions of the ecosystem. The main goal of citizen science is ecosystem stability. There needs more tools and resources for citizens to actively contribute to the development of a database documenting the distributions of species and their impacts across the region. There needs to be more training and educators to provide information to the public to help build understanding of the methods and results of scientific research about species and Great Lakes ecosystems ecology.

Citizen science has some shortcomings, like potential for human error and bias which is a result from training deficits (Dickinson, 2010). To minimize this bias observers are trained and educated. Another common shortcoming is dealing with sampling bias and improvement of improving data analysis. This could be caused by variations in time of data collection and space. These shortcomings do not nearly overweight the pros of citizen science, however, must be considered.

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Rare plant training – Source: Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (Corey Riamond)

The increasing contributions of citizen science to ecological regions, like the Great Lakes has many benefits to the conservation of biodiversity. These efforts of volunteer-based initiatives benefit ecological field studies that need data collection and human observational content (Tulloch, 2013). One of the greatest benefits to citizen science is the ability for larger spatial coverage of large geographical scales that help with the large, coordination of ecological monitoring. It is conclusive that citizen science is an effective research tool that should be utilized in many more aspects of ecology and science, as a whole.

References: 

  1. “You’re in a Watershed Right Now!” Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
  2. Dickinson, Janis L., et al., “Citizen Science as an Ecological Research Tool: Challenges and Benefits.” Citizen Science as an Ecological Research Tool: Challenges and Benefits – Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 41(2010):149. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
  3. “Rehabilitation and Action Plan: Improving Wastewater Management for the Future.” Citizen Science: Great Lakes Wastewater Management. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.
  4. Tulloch, Ayesha I.T, and Hugh P. Possingham. “Realising the Full Potential of Citizen Science Monitoring Programs.” Biological Conservation 165 (2013): 128-38. Print.
  5. Shirk, Jennifer L., et al., “Public Participation in Scientific Research: A Framework for Deliberate Design.” Ecology and Society 17.2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
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