Contributing to Science While At Home
The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.
While the world is practicing social distancing, it can feel like there are limited options to stay connected with friends and family. Inspired by the boost in classifications during the pandemic, the Snapshot team wants to highlight ways that people can have fun together and still contribute to science.
Emily Buege Donovan, Research Scientist at the Wisconsin DNR and member of the Snapshot Wisconsin team, discusses a new opportunity within Snapshot Wisconsin and other ways to make classifying photos a group activity.
Donovan holds two positions within Snapshot, a database manager and spatial analyst. “I do a lot of spatial analysis, mapping and managing our spatial datasets,” said Donovan. “I also manage a lot of the Zooniverse data and regular functions of the Zooniverse site, and I support science products within Snapshot. It is a lot of odds and ends.” But of late, Donovan has been focusing on a new classification project within Snapshot.
Snapshot Wisconsin Bird Edition: Explained
“Snapshot Wisconsin Bird Edition, as we’re calling it, is a collaboration between Snapshot Wisconsin and the Natural Heritage Conservation, specifically the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II,” said Donovan. The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II is a multi-year census of the birds that are breeding in Wisconsin. Through documenting current bird breeding patterns and distribution, we can compare them to future numbers and identify areas that could be improved for better bird conservation efforts in Wisconsin.
Donovan explained, “At Snapshot, we classify only a handful of birds to the species-level, especially those of special management interest.” Whooping cranes, sandhill cranes and a few upland birds like turkey, grouse and pheasant are the only birds that are classified to the species level. “Everything else, all the other 250-plus species of birds that are found in Wisconsin, get classified as ‘Other bird.’ We have a long history of bird photos that were categorized into the umbrella category of ‘Other bird,’ and the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II was interested in any examples we had of birds breeding.”
Using catalogued photos that were previously classified as ‘Other bird,’ volunteers can add observations to the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II through Zooniverse, just like when they are classifying for Snapshot. “The first step,” said Donovan, “is to classify these photos to the species level. The second step is to determine whether there is any evidence of breeding. Examples are birds carrying nesting materials, a pair of birds in suitable habitat or young birds like fledglings.”
Anyone with a bird field guide or the internet can contribute to this new project. There are resources available on the Zooniverse page that describe how the breeding codes work for birds. Donovan encourages anyone with an interest in birds and birding to participate.
“This is actually a really good way to practice birding,” said Donovan. “You can rewatch the sequence as many times as needed to get a good look. The bird isn’t going to fly away. Plus, you can dedicate as much or as little time as you want.”
Join the Community on the Zooniverse Discussion Board!
In addition to the Snapshot Wisconsin Bird Edition, the Snapshot team also encouraged people to give the Snapshot discussion board a try. The discussion board can be found on the Snapshot Zooniverse page under the “Talk” tab.
“You can use it to help identify a tricky photo or ask for a second opinion. It’s also a great way to interact with the researchers and find out more about the project,” said Donovan. The discussion board has a community of frequent classifiers from across the globe who interact with each other using this feature. “With the current events going on, you can’t always get out and interact with people in person, so [the discussion board] is a great way to meet fellow wildlife enthusiasts and interact.”
Zooniverse allows classifiers to share individual photos to the discussion board. Whether sharing a silly animal selfie, an interesting coat pattern, or asking a question about an animal’s behavior, volunteers can share cool photos for others to see. Additionally, photos can be saved into collections. Collections, viewable under the “Collect” tab, are a great way to save your favorite pictures and are an easy way to see what others have saved.
It is also common to tag photos with popular hashtags, such as #Multi_Species and #Interesting_Behavior, which automatically get added to each hashtag’s collection. Others can click on or search for that hashtag to find all of the photos with that specific tag. These hashtag and collection features are available without sharing them to the discussion board, but isn’t it more fun to share cool photos with others who will appreciate them?
One important hashtag of note is #SuperSnap. The #SuperSnap photos are reviewed each month by the Snapshot team, and one is chosen to be featured on our Zooniverse page. If you have a moment today, check out the great photos under the #SuperSnap collection! Or tag the best photos you come across, because one might get featured in a future post.
New Snapshot Activities
The Snapshot team has also been working on a few new ways that people can use Snapshot to stay involved with people they care about. Whether you are a parent looking for an afternoon activity to keep your kids entertained or friends wanting to do something meaningful together online, Snapshot has a few new options you can consider.
Snapshot already has lesson plans for educators on its website, but sometimes you don’t get the luxury of time to plan activities. “Having a niece and nephew myself, I understand you don’t always have the ability to plan ahead,” said Donovan. So, Snapshot developed two quick activities that you can do to spend time with someone you care about and help contribute to wildlife monitoring in Wisconsin.
The first activity is a Snapshot version of Bingo [PDF]. All the planning one needs to do is print out the bingo board and fill the spaces in using our recommendations or ones you come up with yourself. Then, jump on your Zooniverse account and classify photos until you come across a photo that fits a Bingo space and mark that space off. Play can be cooperative, playing with someone you can’t physically meet up with because of health concerns or distance, or play can be competitive between siblings or friends. The game is what you make it, so make it your own version of fun!
The second new activity is Snapshot Yoga [PDF]. In Snapshot Yoga, volunteers spend ten or so minutes classifying photos on Zooniverse, saving their favorites into a special collection. Then, as an away-from-screen activity, volunteers can try mimicking the photos in their collection. Any brave souls are welcome to share with us a photo of themselves trying one of these poses. Bonus points if you can capture a special Snapshot yoga moment with a friend, family member or pet! Donovan added, “I like that you can do these activities competitively or cooperatively. You can even send the photos to each other that you find [while classifying] to share them back and forth.”
“I think these activities are entertaining for people of all ages, not just kids. Especially Wisconsinites, we have an interest and pride in our wildlife. People love looking at photos of animals. But this is different from a lot of other activities because it is interactive and contributes to wildlife research,” said Donovan. Descriptions of both activities can be found on the Snapshot webpage along side our resources for educators.
The next rainy day, the next time you’re craving some cool photos of animals, or the next time you want to do a fun activity with a loved one, consider Snapshot Wisconsin as an option. Just because we are practicing social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t still interact with those we care about and contribute towards something bigger than ourselves.
Let’s discover our wildlife together!
Snapshot Wisconsin is a partnership to monitor wildlife year-round, using a statewide network of trail cameras. The project provides data needed for wildlife management decision support at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It also provides a unique opportunity for individuals, families, and students to get involved in monitoring the state’s valuable natural resources!
Learn more about the Snapshot Wisconsin project.