Most readers of this blog know that Snapshot Wisconsin brings together people from around the globe who share an interest in classifying Wisconsin’s extraordinary wildlife. In addition to building connections with volunteers, Snapshot Wisconsin works to form connections with organizations, such as the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF). This non-profit organization’s Diversity in Conservation Internship Program aims to introduce a diverse group of undergraduates to the many career paths in conservation. This summer, Snapshot is hosting one of the seven NRF interns, Mira Johnson.
Hello, my name is Mira, and I have been working with the Snapshot team over the last couple of months. During my time here, I have assisted in daily tasks like preparing equipment for volunteers and moderating Zooniverse. What’s more, I have had the remarkable opportunity to work on individual projects, like designing graphics for volunteer outreach materials, carrying out a small research study, and publishing this blog post! Last spring, I designed and conducted a small research project with two other students on an island called Bonaire. From this experience, I became more interested in learning how observational studies can be designed to reduce confounding variables, as that was a concern apparent in our study. This summer’s internship, spent immersed in the many projects underway at the DNR and being mentored by a research and data scientist, promises to significantly grow and deepen my understanding of reliable research practices.
Please allow me to share little about myself and my experience in Bonaire that I mentioned previously. I am a junior at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, majoring in biology with a focus on marine systems. My interest in marine life began over many visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and tidepools of California with my grandfather. My growing fascination with marine life eventually led me to apply for the Lawrence University Marine Program in 2021. I was accepted, and in the Spring of 2022, fifteen students and I traveled to the island of Bonaire in the Southern Caribbean.
Over the two weeks in Bonaire, we surveyed reefs for biodiversity and conducted our small group research projects. Although I had been eagerly anticipating this trip for over a year, when the day finally arrived for our first dive, I was pretty nervous! I grew up in the Midwest, and my previous dive experience was limited to diving a couple of times in the murky lakes of Minnesota when I received my SCUBA certification. This resulted in a first dive where my eyes were mostly glued to my depth gauge and air supply. It wasn’t long however before the tension began to wash away as I glided across the reef identifying the vibrant life below.
Once everyone became comfortable with diving, we surveyed for coral biodiversity using chain transects. This method involved long periods of hovering above the reef as we waited while the videographer swam along each chain. It was during moments like these that we could attentively inspect and appreciate the marine life around us. As we hung neutrally buoyant, I was able to spot some of the reef’s shyer species, like the Queen Angelfish, the Chain Moray, and the Spotted Drum.
When we were not performing chain transects, we were out gathering data for our small group research projects. My group chose to conduct a study on locations on the reef where cleaning behavior (a mutualistic interaction where cleaner fish remove ectoparasites from client fish) between fish occur. Our experiment looked at sites where cleaning interactions took place, which led to an interesting finding that most client fish were cleaned above corals (as opposed to over sponges, anemones, or neither). It was when arriving at the analysis and interpretation stage of our study that we realized that various interpretations could be made, including some valid opposing arguments. With this experience I began to realize the importance of a well-designed study, and this pushed me to want to learn more about reliable research practices.
As I work on my small research project using the Snapshot Wisconsin database, I am learning ways in which I can develop a well-designed study. Anticipating problems and biases that might arise in the analysis stage is extremely valuable in correctly interpreting the results. In the planning stage, I have observed that involving a diverse group of people early on is helpful, as a data scientist might foresee analytical problems that a research scientist may not, and vice versa. It is exciting to see the values of the NRF Diversity in Conservation Internship Program in action during my time here with Snapshot Wisconsin, and I have enjoyed contributing to the team. All this said, I look forward to continuing to engage with the Snapshot Wisconsin project and interacting with you all on Zooniverse!
The following piece was co-written by Ally Magnin and Claire Viellieux, with contributions from The Snapshot Wisconsin Team.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently conducted an analysis of trail cameras in the Black River Falls elk reintroduction area. In this analysis, we compared elk collar location data to active cameras. We found that the elk herd range has shifted since their reintroduction in the area and that some of our camera locations are not aligned with where the elk are currently located. To begin to address this mismatch and maintain our grids, we identified cameras that should be removed, replaced, or checked. Below, Snapshot Wisconsin team members share a “snapshot” of their experiences checking cameras in the Black River Falls State Forest.
“While I have helped with elk fieldwork before (check out this blog post!), this was my first experience organizing a trip for the team. It was also my first time heading out into the woods alone – something I never would have been confident enough to do two years ago! Overall, conducting this fieldwork improved my ability to navigate with a GPS unit and made me comfortable with being in the woods alone. The quiet of the forest was a little unsettling at first, but by lunchtime of the first day, I settled in and enjoyed the solitude. I tuned in to the sounds of the forest and felt at ease.” – Ally Magnin
“Getting back into the field was a great experience this last round of fieldwork. While I am beyond appreciative of the time that volunteers put into monitoring their cameras, I can’t help but jump on an opportunity to get out and contribute to that part of the project. When it came to the luck of the draw for removing elk cameras, I certainly fared well. Although I encountered my fair share of ‘creepy crawlies’ and briars, I was welcomed with beautiful views of the Black River State Forest, including the Pigeon Creek Flowage, and even got to see my first Wisconsin black bear.” – Sarah Cameron
“What do fly bites and cold toes have in common? They’re both guarantees while doing fieldwork in the extremes of Wisconsin’s weather. While some seasons are more comfortable for meandering through the woods than others, each has its own charm. Summer, for example, is a peak for finding a diversity of flora and fauna. In my two most recent field days, I encountered a doe and a fawn crossing the road ahead of me, was startled by a ruffed grouse that I unintentionally flushed, and enjoyed watching a spring peeper jump through the brush along the path. But the critter that inspired me most was even smaller.
Before finding one during fieldwork, I had never seen a bright red dragonfly. I snapped a quick picture and continued along my way – stopping too long is just inviting the flies to bite uncovered fingers. As I hiked, I thought about all the other brightly colored dragonflies I had seen growing up – blue and green, mostly. I wondered if there were dragonflies for every color of the rainbow. Probably not here in Wisconsin, but perhaps I could find something else to represent every color in the rainbow. This created a fun little scavenger hunt for me and made my time go by almost too quickly!”
—Emily Buege Donovan
“As I was driving to my first trail camera location in Black River Falls, I remember noticing how beautiful and lush all the trees were. It was a clear, sunny day and I was looking forward to exploring an area that I had never been to before. Trying to locate my first camera ended up being a bit of a trial by fire. It had rained the night before, creating swampy conditions. I stepped on a patch of mossy forest floor that I expected to be solid, but before I knew it, I had fallen up to my waist in swamp water! Luckily the field clothes I was wearing dried off quickly. Besides this misfortune, the rest of the day went smoothly. I even saw a mother raccoon and her adorable babies waddling across the road. Unfortunately, they were too quick for me to pull over and snap a photo, but I’ve included a picture of my cheery view as I stopped to eat lunch from the back of my car.”— Claire Viellieux
“This July was my first experience doing fieldwork with Snapshot Wisconsin and the timing could not have been better! After transitioning to working from home in March, a trip up to Black River Falls State Forest was a sorely needed dose of the outdoors.
I had a few cameras on my list to find and the first one was a super easy walk through a peaceful campground and low-density foliage. I found the camera quickly with just a few mosquitoes flying around me. Finding this camera so quickly and easily gave me a false sense of confidence as I headed towards my second camera.
I hopped in the truck and drove to my next camera. From my maps, it looked like it was right off the road. I spent some time trying to find an easy path. After a few false starts trying to make my way through the ferns, water, moss, and bushes, I plunged in and started walking in as direct a line as possible to the camera. That line turned out not to be so direct. I got turned around and so did the GPS. In the end, I am pretty sure I spent a half-hour walking through the same 20 square meters. I did not end up finding this camera.
After this long search, lunch in the truck bed was a must. The continual feeling of being lost at that last camera site was foreign to me, but it was also a great reminder to get outside my comfort zone and try new things. It definitely gave me a better appreciation for all of the hard work our volunteers put into this project.
I found my final camera with my teammate Emily. Even though most of our fieldwork was done solo in individual vehicles to make sure we were following all the required health precautions, Emily and I hiked the longest distance of the day together while keeping at least 6 feet apart from each other. I’m so glad we were able to go to this final site together because it gave me more confidence. We tromped through logging tracts, chest high ferns, and pockets of moss that made me very grateful for my waterproof hiking boots before finally locating the last camera.
Thank you elk camera volunteers! These cameras are hard to find but it is so rewarding to see those photos of elk becoming established as Wisconsin wildlife once again.” – Jamie Bugel