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Citizens Team with UW to Chart Wyoming’s Flora and Fauna

September 1, 2015
woman and small child walking on mountain trail
Rebecca Walsh and her 4-year-old son, William, hike along the Blair Wallis Trail east of Laramie in search of moose during Summer Moose Day July 18. (Al Walsh Photo)

Rebecca Walsh, of Laramie, and her family hit the Blair Wallis Trail east of Laramie before sunrise July 18 to participate in the family’s first citizen science project, Summer Moose Day. The University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute sponsored the inaugural event.

She and her husband, Al, and their two sons, William, 4, and Finn, 2, were among 85 citizen scientists who surveyed 36 routes in the Snowy Range and Pole Mountain areas in search of moose. Citizen scientists observed 16 moose that day and entered data into the Biodiversity Institute’s Wyoming Biodiversity Citizen Science Initiative (WyoBio) website at www.wyobio.org.

WyoBio is a tool for citizens, students, teachers, parents and researchers to explore data and information about Wyoming’s biological diversity. Individuals can contribute their own observation data of plants, animals and fungi; view data on a map; and download lesson plans.

Summer Moose Day is just one organized citizen science program about which citizens can enter data into WyoBio. Other specific programs are Winter Moose Day, the Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project, Monarchs & Milkweeds, and the BioBlitz.

The initiative is a joint effort of the Biodiversity Institute, the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC) and the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD). The Biodiversity Institute created the educational components; WyGISC developed the database and map; and WYNDD contributed distribution maps of species and descriptions, which came pre-loaded in WyoBio.

“There are a lot of data that exist for our state in terms of biology, but they are not necessarily accessible to the general user,” says Teal Wyckoff, WyoBio technical manager and research scientist with WyGISC. WyoBio makes data available to a public audience, she says.

Although the Walsh family did not see any moose on Summer Moose Day, they did discover WyoBio and its benefits. Rebecca and Al Walsh write trail guides, and they use WyoBio as a reference tool before hikes.

“I think the database is really cool and really useful,” Rebecca Walsh says. “Now, I pull it up before we go on a hike to see what’s been going on in the area where we are about to go.”

Two other first-time citizen scientists, Lorna Johnson and Mickey Patterson, both of Laramie, observed two male moose in the Squirrel Creek area in the Snowy Range.

“Summer Moose Day was a great opportunity to make a small contribution to conservation and preservation for Wyoming wildlife,” Johnson says.

Johnson, 71, says she plans to participate annually in Summer Moose Day, and she would like to survey the same area every year for as long as she is able.

Becoming citizen scientists

Citizens don’t have to participate in an organized event to contribute data, however. As people are out enjoying a variety of activities in nature, they can become citizen scientists by collecting data, taking a photo or two and then entering that information into WyoBio. Their contributions can help scientists understand how biological systems work and how better to conserve or preserve them, Wyckoff says.

WyoBio is intended for people throughout Wyoming to contribute observations and use the tool for educational purposes. But, it’s not just for residents of the state.

“If they are visitors to Wyoming, they also can use this tool and contribute what they saw while they were here,” Wyckoff says. “So, we really do have a broad audience, and it’s growing every day.”

Since the WyoBio website was launched a little over a year ago, more than 100 data contributors have added more than 1,100 observations. Visits to the website number more than 9,300, with views from people in Colorado, California, Texas, New York and Illinois, among other states.

Anyone is welcome to visit WyoBio to learn about resources and view data on the map. However, to contribute an observation, a citizen scientist must complete a simple registration process online so that data can be attributed to a particular citizen scientist.

What if you don’t know what you saw? A vetting process is a new component to the website. Professionals in particular fields will review observations that are entered into WyoBio. They can accept observations moose in the distance, partially hidden by treesbased on data provided or, if more information is needed, they can email the contributors to discuss the observations.

Other features planned for WyoBio in the coming year are project-level data organization so that observations can be associated with an individual and with a project, plus added functionality for users to filter data -- such as by species, by date or by location.

Additionally, a mobile application is in the works. After downloading to their mobile devices, citizen scientists can log into WyoBio to contribute data from in the field or wherever their location. If they are offline, they can sync their observations and upload photos when they get back to service.

A focus on education

WyoBio also was designed to provide opportunities and experiences for students and educators to learn more about Wyoming biodiversity data, connect with organisms and ecosystems within the state, and develop and test hypotheses.

Students at two Wyoming schools used WyoBio to aid with a couple of specific projects in the past year. Sixth-grade students at Tongue River Middle School in Ranchester participated in a Trout Unlimited project to track microchipped fish in the Tongue River. They used WyoBio to visualize where the fish were each month. Fifth-graders at Lander’s Baldwin Creek Elementary School last spring recorded observations of plants and animals along the creek behind their school. The goal is to track changes as the vegetation recovers from major disturbances.

Lesson plans that connect WyoBio activities to state science standards are available on the website. An education committee, composed of elementary, middle and high school teachers; a science education consultant from the Wyoming Department of Education; and a science educator from the UW Science and Mathematics Teaching Center, developed or adapted lessons to meet selected science standards. Kim Mapp, a UW master’s student, formatted the lessons and oversaw getting the resources for each lesson created or compiled.

“Our biggest goal with the lessons is to get students outdoors, and each lesson has that as a component,” says Dorothy Tuthill, Biodiversity Institute associate director.

Tuthill encourages teachers to upload their lesson ideas for use with WyoBio through a form on the website.

One of the WyoBio project’s goals is to keep participants involved and to continue to engage with them.

“We want this to be transparent. We want folks to be able to ask about species information, and we can answer those questions or at least be able to get the answer. We want there to be a line of communication. We feel like that’s really important to help keep folks involved,” Wyckoff says.

For more information about WyoBio or citizen science programs, contact the Biodiversity Institute at (307) 766-6240 or visit www.wyobio.org.


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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