Can You Name this Paw Print?

By Guest June 16th, 2015 at 8:00 am | Comment

Bear Tracks (Credit: Sonnie Sussillo)

Bear Tracks (Credit: Sonnie Sussillo)

A citizen science program documents the movement of six species in the mountain ranges and river valleys of northern New Mexico helping create wildlife corridors. For more wildlife related citizen science projects, visit SciStarter.

by Sharman Apt Russel

 

Wild animals glide so easily through the landscape, into bushes and leaves, up trees, around corners, even diving into the earth, so that you often wonder: was that a fox or a wish? Did I really just see a bobcat? Is that whoofing noise a black bear, startled now and galumphing down the hill? Read the rest of this entry »

Dragonfly Watch – Find Those Fast and Furious Insects!

By Ian Vorster June 12th, 2015 at 12:12 am | Comment

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

“I’m an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work,” says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation Director at the Xerces Society. In her role as the project coordinator for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, she continues to add acclaim to these fast and furious little critters, “The nymphs are amazing predators with extremely cool adaptations for feeding—hinge-toothed lower lips that shoot out faster than the eye can see—and respiration rectal gills that double as a jet-propulsion chamber!”

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is a collaborative partnership that was set up between experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in which citizen scientists play an integral role. There are many questions currently surrounding dragonfly migration that MDP is trying to answer. For example, says Dr. Mazzacano, “What is the southern extent of migration, what is the relationship between resident and migratory members of the same species at the same site, and do all individuals that migrate south from a single place, go to the same destination in the south, or do individuals drop out and overwinter at different latitudes?” The primary goal of the project is to answer some of these questions and to provide information needed to create cross-border conservation programs to protect and sustain this amazing migratory phenomenon.

The Project has enjoyed an extremely positive response from the citizen science community. “Because the adults are so lovely, I consider dragonflies to be the poster children of aquatic invertebrates. They are much easier to see and care about than the equally important but less obvious mussels, stoneflies, and mayflies,” adds Mazzacano. Many people are fascinated by dragonflies but don’t really know anything about them, and consequently want to learn more, and find good places to observe them. “Interestingly, many birders are also getting into dragonflying.”

There are five dragonfly species that are the most regular annual migrants in North America. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership collects data on them in two ways, via two different but connected citizen science projects. For the Migration Monitoring project, citizen scientists report dragonflies heading south in the late summer and fall (these may be in the tens of thousands, thousands, or a steady trickle of individuals—it varies); and the Pond Watch project, where the local life history and the relationship between resident and migrant dragonflies of the same species in the same habitat is investigated. Here citizen scientists are asked to report on the presence or absence, abundance, and behaviors of migratory species at their Pond Watch site on a regular basis throughout the year.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

The project has only been running for three years, which means that MDP is just now beginning to accumulate enough data to publish findings. “One of the first products was a comprehensive review paper by steering committee member and [retired Rutgers University] odonate expert Dr. Mike May ,” says Mazzacano. “And we have a paper in the works about the results of the stable hydrogen isotope studies done on wings of migrating dragonflies to determine how far they traveled from the site where they developed and emerged as adults.” That paper should be out later this year.

With current emphasis on the unique ability of citizen science projects to meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by providing opportunities for inquiry, MDP is now partnering with Dr. Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota, who is working on dragonfly-based curriculum for school children. “And more immediately, we are beginning to work now with local organizations that focus on environmental opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Portland Oregon area to offer dragonfly-based environmental education in Spanish,” notes Mazzacano.

As with many hobbies, after all the inquiry has been satisfied, it comes down to enjoyment and recreation. The most exciting thing about the project for Mazzacano is that it gets more people outdoors interacting with insects in a positive way, and  connects those people to their local ponds and wetlands. “Freshwater is the most threatened resource we have, and when people learn about and start to love the creatures in local waters that they might not even have known existed prior to this, they will become more engaged in trying to protect those resources,” says Mazzacano with enthusiasm. And of course it has also been exciting for her, thanks to the data collected by citizen scientists, to be able to answer some of the many questions that exist about dragonfly migration. “I think this connection to freshwater is a benefit that will go on long after individual citizen scientists learn about, and help with MDP projects.”

Would you like to become a citizen scientist in this project? Connect to the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership here, register your local pond, pack a picnic hamper and head out to monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies. Note any additional behaviors, such as observed migratory flight, feeding or mating, and you are encouraged to take photos or record video coverage.

When gathered across a wide geographic range and throughout a span of years, these data will provide answers to questions about which species are regular migrants; the frequency and timing of migration in different species; sources, routes, and destinations of migrants; and the health of their environment.


Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.

 

DIYBio and Open Science Changed My Life (And Could Change Yours)

By Editorial Team June 10th, 2015 at 1:21 am | Comment

Milo Toor, a software engineer learns to sequence DNA at Counter Culture Labs. Source: Counter Culture Labs

Counter Culture Labs belongs to a network of community labs in which professional and amateur scientists come together to pursue authentic scientific research. Source: Counter Culture Labs.

Milo Toor, a software engineer writes about his experience with DIYBio and Counter Culture Labs. You can find more information about Counter Culture Labs and search for other DIYBio projects on the SciStarter citizen science project database. Counter Culture Labs is a 100% volunteer-run, membership funded organization, and is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, funds from which will be used to help support infrastructure and grow their collection of science toys. Help keep science accessible by donating!

 

I have two families. There’s the one with two parents and two sisters, with whom I share DNA and have Thanksgiving dinner. And then there’s the one with several dozen science fanatics, with whom I design DNA and craft vegan cheese to one day accompany that turkey. I would like to share my experience with the latter of these beloved families, Counter Culture Labs.

Located within Oakland’s Omni Commons, Counter Culture Labs (CCL) is both a physical space and a community. CCL is a self-supervised playground for science enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, a breeding ground for curiosity, and a proud part of the burgeoning global DIY Biology community. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrate World Oceans Day with Citizen Science

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) June 5th, 2015 at 4:24 am | Comment

Photo; USFWS

On June 8th, people across the world will celebrate World Oceans Day, a day set aside to honor and protect our oceans.

To help you participate in World Oceans Day, we’ve put together a list of 7 ocean-based citizen science projects that need your help.

We are partnering with The TerraMar Project to share SciStarter’s “ocean and water” projects with their global community to transform the way we think about the ocean and the high seas.

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Growth Results for Microbes Collected by Citizen Scientists and Grown on the International Space Station

By Darlene Cavalier May 29th, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Comment

 

patchRelative Growth Rates Documented by UC Davis Scientists for Project MERCCURI

“Encouraging” for Long-Term Manned Spaceflight

Do microbes grow differently on the International Space Station than they do on Earth? Results from the growth of microbes collected by SciStarter’s community of citizen scientists in Project MERCCURI indicate that most behave similarly in both places.

“While this data is extremely preliminary, it is potentially encouraging for long-term manned spaceflight,” said Dr. David Coil, Project Scientist in the Microbiology Lab of Jonathan Eisen at the University of California at Davis. “With this part of Project MERCCURI we hoped to shed light on how microbes associated with the normal, human and built environment behaved in space. Our focus was not on microbes that cause disease, but the many beneficial and neutral microbes that surround us on a daily basis.”

SciStarter and the Science Cheerleaders organized a community of thousands of people across the country to participate in the citizen science portion of the project, gathering samples from built environments such as chairs, doors, railings… even the Liberty Bell. Then the “microbiology team” in the laboratory at UC Davis grew up and examined hundreds of microbes. The team selected 48 microbes, which, with approval from NASA, rode the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the Space Station for further research. Of those 48, only a handful grew at all differently in Space, and the difference was significant for only one: Bacillus safensis. This microbe was collected on a Mars Exploration Rover (before it was launched) at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. It grew significantly better on the Space Station.

“We observed that the vast majority of the microbes we examined behaved the same on the Space Station as they do on Earth. In the few cases where we observed a microbe behaving differently in space than on Earth, we’d love to follow that up with further experiments,” said Dr. Coil.

In addition to comparing growth rates on Earth and the Space Station, UC Davis identified winners in three different categories for the “Microbial Playoffs” in space.

Best Huddle: the microbe that grew to the highest density, packing cells into the space allowed

  • Yuri’s Night, Los Angeles: Kocuria rhizophila was collected on a camera at a Yuri’s Night Party with Buzz Aldrin (the second person to walk on the moon).
  • San Antonio Spurs: Kocuria kristinae was collected on the court after a San Antonio Spurs game.
  • Discover Magazine: Micrococcus yunnanensis, collected from a dictionary at the offices of Discover Magazine.

Best Tipoff: the microbial competitor that took off growing like crazy from the start

  • Pop Warner Chittenango: Bacillus pumilus was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders.
  • Smithsonian Air & Space Museum: Pantoea eucrina was collected on the Mercury Orbitor at the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space.
  • Pop Warner Saints: Bacillus horikoshii was collected on a football field by Pop Warner Saints cheerleaders from Port Reading, NJ.

Best Sprint: the microbe that grew the fastest during the sprinting portion of growth (technically known as the “exponential growth phase”)

  • Oakland Raiders: Bacillus aryabhatti was collected on a practice football field used by the Oakland Raiders.
  • Pop Warner Chittenango: Bacillus pumilus was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders.
  • Mars Exploration Rover (JPL): Paenibacillus elgii, collected from a Mars Exploration Rover before launch (2004) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL- NASA, Pasadena, CA).

Find rankings of all 48 samples in these three growth categories on the Results page at the Space Microbes web site.

Other elements of Project MERCCURI are still in process. In addition to overseeing the microbial playoffs, astronauts also collected microbes on the Space Station and sent those back to Earth. The UC Davis team has analyzed the data from those and are preparing a scientific publication on the results. In addition, members of the public contributed 3,000 cell phone and shoe samples for an ongoing analysis of which microbes live where, and how that compares to the ISS.

“With this project, thousands of people contributed to research on the Space Station and at UC Davis, one of the leading microbiology research labs in the country,” said Darlene Cavalier, Founder of SciStarter and Science Cheerleader, which led the microbe collection effort. “Our goal is to spur even more people to get involved in significant science. Whether someone is a child or an adult, is interested in space or the ocean, in biology or chemistry, in the climate or computers – scientists are working on research and development that would benefit from more participation.” Learn about and sign up to help with more research projects at www.SciStarter.com .

Project MERCCURI is coordinated by Science Cheerleader (current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and technology careers), SciStarter, and UC Davis, in conjunction with the Argonne National Laboratory. The Project is made possible by Space Florida, NanoRacks, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.