Tag Archive | Citizen Science

Exploring the Plant Side of Citizen Science

In the state of Wisconsin, we are lucky to have so many people who take interest in our natural resources. From the Snapshot Wisconsin project here at the Department of Natural Resources, to university professors conducting environmental research, to individual Wisconsinites, there’s no shortage of people who care.

Before I started working with the Snapshot Wisconsin team, I was fortunate enough to participate in another research project. The goal of the project was to look more closely at the impact that white-tailed deer have on Wisconsin forests when they browse on (or “eat”) sapling trees. My job was to use the Twig-Age method to help collect data across several forest patches in Southern Wisconsin, as well as to build a website to share this new method of data collection with other volunteers who wanted to participate in the research. 

A maple sapling that has been browsed by a deer.

The Twig-Age method involves looking at a tree sapling, measuring its height, and counting the terminal bud scale scars along two of its branches. Terminal bud scale scars are what’s left behind on the twig when a bud falls off naturally during the growing process. Picture marking a child’s height on the wall each year. The more bud scale scars a twig has, the longer a twig has been able to grow without being browsed by a deer. We took hundreds of data points in order to paint a picture of what sort of browsing impacts deer were having on these forests.

One year of growth pointed out on the twig of a Red Maple sapling.

While I was doing this field work, I found myself surprised by how many different species of trees we have in our forests. Usually when I walk through the woods, I don’t take the time to notice all the different plants around me. I notice the birds and the squirrels, but the plants have always been more of a beautiful backdrop. This research project gave me a stronger appreciation for the diverse vegetation that we have in our forests. I had time to get down at eye-level with these saplings and really look at them. It was like playing the part of a historian by recording the age of their twigs and whether or not a deer had eaten from them before. Each data point collected was a personal interview with a tiny tree.

By the end of the summer we created Our Wisconsin Understory, a citizen science project for monitoring deer impacts. The goal is to collect as much data as possible and to hopefully expand data points across the state. Anyone interested in learning more about the Twig-Age method and collecting data for the project can do so at the Our Wisconsin Understory website.

August #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a pair of wood ducks from Richland County! Their colorful head makes them stand out against the early spring growth in this vernal pool. The wood duck (Aix sponsa) does not have any close relatives in North America (Audubon). This makes it a unique bird that prefers the shaded waters in woodland areas. 

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Thank you Zooniverse volunteers Kjreynolds1957 and Nsykora for nominating these birds. Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

How It Feels to Discover a Rare Species on Camera

On Friday, April 12th, Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer John came across something extraordinary. After making routine checks of his elk cameras in Black River Falls, he headed home to upload his photos.  During the standard process of review and classification, one photo in particular stood out amongst the sea of deer and turkeys. John recognized it immediately. “That’s a big white crane with a red head!” he exclaimed. “Woah, this is a whooping crane!”

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John knew how rare they are, having only seen them at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo. That was 30 years ago, when his kids were young. John wanted to verify his discovery before sharing his excitement with the Snapshot team. “I went to my smartphone to verify that I was seeing the correct animal, and I said, ‘Yup, that’s a whooping crane!’” Sure enough, not only had John captured a rare species, but he had photographed the first whooping crane in the history of Snapshot Wisconsin.

He couldn’t believe how spectacular the image was. “It was a beautiful photo! It was at 8 in the morning, and it must have just landed. It had its wings up – it looked like it was dancing in front of the camera! I thought wow, what a perfect picture.”

John has been involved in the project for one and a half years, and currently maintains five cameras in the Black River Falls elk reintroduction area.  John’s passion for the outdoors and interest in Wisconsin elk motivated him to become a Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer after retirement. “I like to get out into new locations and explore. It’s kind of a spiritual experience for me to be in the outdoors.” He also appreciates the opportunity to stay active. “I get a little exercise. I don’t like to be on a treadmill, I would rather be walking in the woods and seeing things. [Snapshot Wisconsin] is a good fit for me.”

When asked about his favorite part of participating in Snapshot Wisconsin, John shared that he enjoys being in the woods, seeing the wildlife and exploring new areas. He also welcomes the challenge of finding his camera sites. “Navigation is challenging,” he explained, “finding a camera based on a certain grid coordinate is kind of exciting.”

Capturing the memorable photo of the whooping crane has only added to John’s experience as a volunteer. “I’m glad I got an animal that was interesting. I have gotten bear, wolves, and bobcats [and] of course a lot of deer and turkey. But the whooping crane was kind of the icing on the cake. I am looking forward to getting other interesting animals.”

John also recognizes how this whooping crane sighting is significant in terms of the conservation of this endangered species. When asked what it means to him to be a part of this crane’s story, John said, “It’s kind of interesting. I think my job is kind of small but sometimes it ends up being a big production. It shows how small the world is and how everybody can make a difference no matter what they do.”

July #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a coyote (Canis latrins) as it approaches a Snapshot Wisconsin camera deployed in Racine County. Snapshot Wisconsin recently surpassed 30 million trail camera images – staff members and volunteers alike are consistently amazed by some of the images coming out of the project. Thank you to Zooniverse volunteers WINature and Swamp-eye for nominating this series!

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Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

June #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a mink from Waupaca county, stepping into ice cold water. Mink are amazing swimmers and divers. Even in the winter, you ask? Yes, thanks to insulation from a thick underfur & oily hair, minks maintain their aquatic lifestyle year round, although less so when it’s cold.

Thanks @Tjper for nominating this sequence!

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Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

Top 10 Reasons to Host a Snapshot Wisconsin Trail Camera

Rumor has it that summer is around the corner, which is the perfect time to sign up for a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera! Do you have access to public land or a private property at least 10 acres in size? A computer with internet? The ability to participate for a least a year? If you answered yes to these questions, congrats – you are already qualified! If you are thinking “But why should I apply?”, here are 10 commonly quoted reasons by our volunteers and project staff:

1. It’s free!

We provide all necessary equipment (including a Bushnell camera), training, technical support and replacements at NO cost! No previous experience is required, we are happy to teach you!

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2. Use your trail camera see up close pictures of wildlife.

Feed your curiosity and learn what is on your property and public lands.

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3. Hosting a trail camera is a great excuse to get out into the woods.

And we’ll remind you to check your camera every three months. That way you’ll head outdoors in all seasons and be on track with the program.

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4. Contribute to wildlife monitoring.

Photos collected through Snapshot Wisconsin are turned into important data used for supporting wildlife management decisions at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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5. Interact with the researchers.

Volunteers interact with the Snapshot Wisconsin research team at various outreach events, both in person and online. We also visit various groups across the state talking about the project and are available for questions on call or email.

6. Be in the know – get regular updates on data collected.

The research team provides regular updates aimed at volunteers – our monthly e-newsletter and blog are chock full of interesting information.

7. Socialize with other volunteers.

Our volunteers meet other citizen science enthusiasts at trainings, outreach and volunteer appreciation events. Discussions at these events can range from how the last hunting season went to secret birding locations, Packer football and so on.

Apart from the events, our Zooniverse forum allows you to interact with more 6500 volunteers from across the globe with the one thing that binds them all – interest in Wisconsin’s charismatic wildlife through the lens of a trail camera.

8. Improve your wildlife identification skills.

We provide a web-interface MySnapshot for volunteers to classify and view their pictures. Our Zooniverse forum is also a way to classify the pictures from across the state.

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 9. Educational outlet for students or nature center visitors.

Hundreds of educators participate in Snapshot Wisconsin. Snapshot Wisconsin is a great avenue to take your class outdoors and to bring the outdoors back into the classroom. Many nature centers also participate in Snapshot Wisconsin and are a great outlet for information on Wisconsin’s wildlife.

10. Provides an opportunity to bridge nature and technology.

Snapshot Wisconsin provides a great opportunity to bridge nature and technology. Trail cameras are non-invasive and providing a wealth of data about the secretive critters of Wisconsin. It’s a great technology for the good, connecting people and nature.

Convinced yet? Signup here: www.SnapshotWISignup.org!
Do you have a few more questions? Contact us at DNRSnapshotWisconsin@Wisconsin.org

 

 

May Volunteer of the Month

May’s Volunteer of the Month is
Chris from Portage County!

Volunteer of the MonthMay’s Volunteer of the Month goes to Chris from Portage County! Chris is a Professor of Biology at UW-Stevens Point. Chris was first introduced to citizen science around 10 years ago through the Wisconsin Bat Program. In collaboration with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee area high school teachers, Chris has since developed a bat curriculum that incorporates citizen science, or as it is known in Milwaukee, community science.

Chris first discovered the Zooniverse platform about two years ago, which led him to learn about Snapshot Wisconsin. After he began hosting his own trail camera, Chris stated that he was initially annoyed by a fawn that rested in front of his camera resulting in hundreds of photos (which we are sure many volunteer have experienced!) Chris’s “aha moment” was then realizing how interesting the data collected about that fawn was – time alert, sleeping, stretching, foraging.

When asked about his advice for potential volunteers, Chris shared, “There are lots of citizen science projects, but Snapshot Wisconsin does a great job of motivating its volunteers. Start with Zooniverse. Snapshot Wisconsin was a pioneer project on this global platform and will connect you immediately to Wisconsin wildlife. If you are hooked by Snapshot like I was, you can consider hosting your own camera and become a small part of a big thing.”

Thank you, Chris! Thank you to all our trail camera hosts and Zooniverse volunteers for helping us discover our wildlife together.

Citizen Science Day 2019

Are you ready to celebrate Citizen Science Day?

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Before we dive into the details, let’s start with what is citizen science? There are many definitions for citizen science, which may also be referred to as community science, crowd-sourced science or volunteer monitoring. The Oxford English Dictionary defines citizen science as,

“Scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.”

Citizen scientists partaking in Snapshot Wisconsin monitor trail cameras across to state to gather year-round data about wildlife. Data collected from the project help inform wildlife management decisions at the WDNR, and also engage the public in learning about the state’s natural resources. Snapshot Wisconsin has over one thousand volunteers hosting trail cameras across the state, and hundreds more from around the globe helping to identify the wildlife caught on camera on Zooniverse.

Citizen Science Day is hosted annually to celebrate and recognize the projects, researchers, and dedicated volunteers that contribute to citizen science all over the world. Mark your calendars for April 13th, this year’s Citizen Science Day kick-off! The Citizen Science Association and SciStarter have teamed up to promote events in celebration of citizen science. Are you interested in celebrating Citizen Science Day this year? Check out SciStarter’s project finder to find Citizen Science Day events near you!

You can celebrate citizen science any day of the year by participating in Snapshot Wisconsin, whether you are interested in hosting a trail camera or identifying the exciting critters captured on camera (which can be done from anywhere!)

WCBM at 15: Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network Turns 15

The following post is by a guest blogger, Eva Lewandowski,  the Citizen-based Monitoring Program Coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Thank you, Eva!

The Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring (WCBM) Network is celebrating its 15th cbmHistoryLogoanniversary this year! Citizen-based monitoring, a form of citizen science, is the participation of volunteers in the long-term monitoring of our natural resources. In 2004, over a century of successes in volunteer efforts had demonstrated their utility for research, conservation management, regulation, and education throughout the state. This led DNR staff to explore ways to link together the many organizations and individuals involved in citizen-based monitoring programs. Partnering with organizations such as UW-Extension, Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Beaver Creek Reserve, and more, they organized and held the first Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Conference in 2004, which was attended by over 120 people.

One of the major takeaways from the conference was the need for a statewide infrastructure to facilitate networking opportunities, the sharing of resources, funding, and communication within Wisconsin’s growing citizen-based monitoring community. Attendees decided that the next step should be to form a statewide group, and the WCBM Network was born!

The WCBM Network’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of volunteer efforts that monitor our plants, animals, waters, and habitats. It supports these efforts by offering resources for volunteers, project staff, researchers, land managers, and other members of the citizen-based monitoring community. The network’s website offers a searchable directory of monitoring projects and groups, an event calendar, and resources for starting a citizen-based monitoring project, selecting monitoring protocols, and even finding equipment and funding. Conferences, trainings, and frequent communications help the WCBM Network’s partners network and stay up to date on the latest news and resources.

Snapshot Wisconsin is proud to be a partner of the WCBM Network. Other partners in the WCBM Network include projects like the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program, and the Rare Plant Monitoring Program. Many organizations are also partners, including DNR, the Wisconsin Master Naturalists, and nature centers throughout the state.

You can help celebrate the WCBM at 15 anniversary by learning about the history of citizen-based monitoring in Wisconsin and by pledging to volunteer your time for one of the state’s many monitoring projects at wiatri.net/cbm.

Thank you for Season 10!

thank youThanks all for another terrific season on Snapshot Wisconsin!  I can’t believe Season 10 of the project has come and gone.  As some of you may have noticed, this season was special, not just because it was our 10th, but it also looked a little different than past seasons.

This season a random selection of our volunteers had the option to work through a series of levels where they were asked not only about the wildlife in the photo, but also about the habitat seen in the photo (e.g. how much snow or green vegetation there was in the photo).  The data contributed by these volunteers produced valuable information that will help us to better understand the relationship between Wisconsin animals and the habitat where they live.  Several recent blog posts have highlighted why this relationship is so important (see here, here, and here if you missed the posts!)

Why did only some volunteers see the levels?

The addition of levels was a big departure from how our Snapshot Wisconsin website has been formatted.  We wanted to carefully examine how this modified experience affects volunteer behavior, learning, and connection to the community. Only a portion of users got to see the experimental site, so we can accurately assess it.  This test is actually part of my research as a PhD student on the Snapshot Wisconsin project.

As team member on Snapshot Wisconsin, my role is to understand the people side of citizen science.  I ask questions like: Why do volunteers get involved in citizen science?  What do volunteers take away from participating?  My goal is to provide feedback that can improve volunteer experience and the science that our project produces.  This season is just one part of that effort.

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White-tailed deer in snow

What are the next steps?

Right now, I’m busy looking at the results of this season. In the near future, Snapshot Wisconsin will return to its normal look.  Whether or not people responded positively to the levels will affect whether the Snapshot Wisconsin Team decides to use the levels during some future seasons.  When I have results to share, we’ll be sure to link to them on the Talk boards and this blog.

How can you help?

One way we’ll assess how volunteers responded to the levels is by looking at how many classifications they completed.  We also want to hear from you directly–regardless of whether or not you had access to the levels.  Snapshot Wisconsin volunteers will receive an email from Zooniverse asking them to complete a survey about their experience this past season.  Your responses are essential in helping us to evaluate Season 10.

What will happen with the photos that have not yet been retired from Season 10?

A handful of photos were not retired before Season 10 ended.  While Season 11 is running, we’ll be busy doing some analysis of the photos to see which need more classifications. We’ll then re-post these photos in Season 12 and beyond.

If you have questions don’t hesitate to reach out to me via private message on Zoonvierse (@anhaltcm) or on the comments here!  On behalf of the whole team, thank you again for Season 10!