Encouraging Citizen Scientists
UW’s Biodiversity Institute connects citizens with science to benefit research and understanding.
By Micaela Myers
Edith Heyward of Sheridan spends much of the year outdoors—camping, canoeing and listening carefully to the sounds of wildlife around her—so that she can share her observations, photos and findings with scientists and other interested citizens. Heyward, like hundreds of other Wyomingites, is a citizen scientist, and her efforts are supported by a number of programs spearheaded by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, housed in the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center.
“Whenever I see an interesting creature like a swift fox, monarch caterpillar or varied thrush, I think that others might be interested too, so the Wyoming Biodiversity Citizen Science Initiative (WyoBio) lets me document my observations,” Heyward says. “I enjoy WyoBio’s easy access to information about Wyoming’s creatures.” She also participates in the Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project, where her family monitors a local catchment.
In partnership with other organizations both at UW and throughout the state, the Biodiversity Institute’s citizen science projects also include Monarchs and Milkweeds, Moose Day and BioBlitz, and Director Carlos Martinez del Rio says this is just the beginning. “The future of citizen science is bright because the citizens of Wyoming are so engaged with the natural world directly,” he says. This includes everyone from hikers and bird watchers to fly fishers and hunters.
“Community engagement in science creates ways for children and adults to learn about scientific methods, the natural world and to take pride in their contributions to scientific knowledge,” Martinez del Rio says. “At the same time, it provides invaluable information that is used by professional scientists and wildlife managers.”
Young Citizen Scientists
Citizen science projects are great for children and families. In addition to the regular offerings, Brian Barber, director of science programs for the Biodiversity Institute, recently completed an eight-month project with Laramie Girl Scouts.
Titled “Girl Scouts in Science Discovering Wyoming Water,” the students’ project examined whether the quality of water changed after a recent stream restoration project of the Laramie River. They met weekly to develop their own hypotheses and to test them. Barber says that this was one of the more rewarding programs of his career. The scouts went on to present their research at UW and in Helena, Montana.
“It taught me how to collect and graph data,” says 12-year-old participant Alyssa Malvoisin, adding that the data collection was her favorite part. Both Alyssa and her mother hope to participate in future citizen science programs.
WyoBio: The WyoBio web portal is the heart of citizen science at the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute. “It’s populated by an incredibly rich data set that was developed by the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, as well as an ever-increasing citizen-contributed data set,” says Director Carlos Martinez del Rio. WyoBio allows anyone to access information on organisms found in Wyoming, and citizens can upload their own photos and observations. All of the other citizen science programs feed into WyoBio.
Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project: With amphibian populations in decline, this project allows citizens to each monitor a particular catchment and share findings to help better understand toad, frog and salamander populations.
Monarchs and Milkweeds: Monarch butterflies are also in decline. “Monarch caterpillars depend on milkweed to survive, so it’s important for us to know where monarchs and milkweed are in Wyoming,” says Program Manager Juliet Slutzker. The Monarchs and Milkweeds program encourages citizens to gather observations of where, when and how many monarchs and milkweed plants they observe.
Moose Day: Winter and summer Moose Days encourage participants in the Laramie area to attend a training and then survey pre-designated routes. The information gathered is shared with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and researchers to help manage moose.
BioBlitz: Weekend-long BioBlitz events bring scientists, teachers and community members together to conduct public surveys of every type of organism they can find within the host areas. Educational activities are also part of these popular annual weekends.
Citizen Science Conference: The first conference took place this December in Lander, with professionals and citizens enjoying hands-on learning.
To learn more about all the citizen science projects and the Biodiversity Institute, visit wyomingbiodiversity.org.