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How You Can Make a Difference in Conservation Using Community Science


PHOTO BY SIEMINSKI PHOTOGRAPHY

Many people don’t realize that through simple actions they take every day they can contribute to helping solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Who knew taking a picture of an insect and sending it to local authorities could help prevent a widespread invasion of invasive pests? Or by setting up a simple rain gauge and reporting data you could contribute to vital climate change research? Everyday people, not just those wearing lab safety glasses and a lab coat, are taking matters into their own hands to revolutionize science. Through simple actions and a passion to help solve a problem, everyone in all walks of life can become a Community Scientist.

What is Community Science?

Loosely, community science (also referred to as “amateur science,” “crowd sourced science,” or “citizen science”) is a term for the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research. With increased access to technology, community science is something you can do nearly everywhere at any time. The main goal of community science is to have everyday people contribute observations and data to help solve large scientific problems. Essentially, community science allows everyone to be involved in important research.


So, what exactly does this look like? And what problems are being solved? National Geographic has an extensive, yet not all-inclusive list, of community science projects ranging from observing backyard wildlife using a phone camera to observing the night sky and measuring light pollution based on what constellations you can see. Community science projects like these are looking to collect data from a large pool of people to help address issues like loss of wildlife species and light pollution.


Not only are people contributing to real-world research, but they are also creating a connection with the environment and learning more about important issues in conservation and the environment. In a world where we are more disconnected from nature than ever before, community science can be a bridge to rekindle a love for the outdoors using modern day technology.

Why is Community Science Important?

The importance of engaging everyday citizens in community science opportunities is immeasurable, and perhaps the best way to show the importance is through a case study that many of us may be familiar with: the infamous murder hornets, also known as the Asian giant hornet (AGH).


Early on in 2020 an Asian giant hornet was reported to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) after a beekeeper happened upon the complete destruction of one of his honeybee hives. In one night, Asian giant hornets had devoured multiple honey bee hives. The problem with this? Pollinators, like honeybees, are facing rapidly declining numbers due to human activity, and now an invasive species is threatening North American bees like never before.


Quickly, the WSDA had to find a solution for this ever-growing problem in the Pacific Northwest. The hornets needed to be eradicated to prevent further loss in native pollinators, but how do you eradicate a species that is so small and undetectable? Your best bet: get a LOT of people on board with looking for them. In what seems like an extremely tight turn around, WSDA turned to community science as a potential solution.


A massive public outreach campaign ensued, with authorities practically going door-to-door to inform citizens of the AGH problem. As word spread, so did action. WSDA developed a tool for the general public to report AGH sightings that was simple enough that as long as you had a cell phone, you could make a report that would provide valuable data to the researchers looking to eradicate the species. Additionally, there was widespread education on putting up AGH traps so everyone who wanted to help stop this species could help locate them.


The outcome of this? AGH nests were found and eradicated in Washington, hopefully preventing the spread of this insect to other vulnerable areas in North America. Although there will never be a way to ensure the species is completely eradicated, with community science efforts in place researchers can continually monitor sightings with the ultimate goal of keeping the AGH at bay.

Community Science without Leaving Your Home

Access to technology has made it easier than ever to contribute to community science projects from home. National Geographic and Scistarter.org are great resources for finding a community science project that you can contribute to based on what interests you most. Want to contribute to wildlife conservation research from your phone? Try downloading the Instant Wild app that allows you to identify animals that have been captured on wildlife cameras from all over the world. When one researcher has to sort through thousands of images, it can take months to analyze data on wildlife cameras, but if that process is spread out amongst hundreds of thousands of people then the researcher can spend more time on solving the problem instead of weeding through pictures.


Community Science from Your Phone

Perhaps one of the most popular community science tool around is iNaturalist, which allows anyone with a smartphone to snap pictures of local flora and fauna. Through iNaturalist, you can get experts to identify the species for you, and on the back-end, researchers can use that data to identify trends in populations.


Community Science with Your Students

The best way to learn science, is by doing science! Teachers looking to incorporate an outdoor field science component to their classroom teachings can find local community science projects to contribute to or assist with a global project, like observing urban birds in your school yard to help scientists retrieve data on the health of urban bird populations.

Better yet, why not look into contributing to one of the community science research projects that EPI supports like sea turtle monitoring in Costa Rica, or invertebrate surveys in Baja, Mexico? With EPI, teachers can experience the empowering feeling that contributing to real-life conservation research offers while teaching students what field science is like in the real world.

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