Citizen scientists document in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles help document reptiles and amphbians in Southern California to aid in conservation efforts. Find more information about participating in RASCals, the citizen science project on SciStarter and watch out for our herptile themed newsletter!
by Sharman Apt Russel
This June, I walked the wilds of Los Angeles looking for lizards. And snakes. And turtles. And because I was finally looking for them, I also began seeing them—and isn’t that a basic truth of life as well as citizen science?
I visit Los Angeles for ten days twice a year as a teacher for the low-residency MFA graduate writing program at Antioch University. My time in nature is mostly spent in a few long runs near my hotel and in walking back and forth from the hotel to the university campus. This summer, wherever I went, I also took along my camera. I was on a mission for the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) citizen science project—to document any reptile or amphibian I came across and to send that image to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Read More
Citizen scientists of the Salamander Crossing Brigades in New Hampshire help thousands of salamanders safely across dangerous roads in their migratory journey to the vernal pools. Find out how they contribute to conservation research by tracking and monitoring the salamanders on an annual basis.
Guest post by Brett Amy Thelen
Every spring, as the earth thaws and warm rains drench New England, thousands of amphibians make their way to vernal pools to breed. It’s a magical time. For the salamanders and frogs undertaking their annual migration, it’s also a dangerous one. One study in western and central Massachusetts found that roadkill rates on even relatively quiet roads could lead to extirpation of local spotted salamander populations in as few as 25 years. Another study reported that 50-100% of salamanders attempting to cross a paved rural road in upstate New York didn’t survive the trek. Read More
Philadelphia, PA – NASA scientists are on a mission to map global soil moisture, and through SciStarter, they’re teaming up with citizen scientists to gather valuable data from the ground to complement and validate what is seen from space.
Known as the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission, the research will help scientists understand links among Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles; reduce uncertainties in predicting climate; and enhance the ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts. SMAP data have additional practical applications for citizens everywhere, including improved weather forecasting and crop yield predictions. Read More
Turn on your porch light at night and bring out your inner citizen scientist. Record observations of moths for National Moth Week and help scientists understand these unique Lepidopterans.
Guest post by Sandra Lanman
I used to be a moth assassin. I’d grab the swatter or scream for my husband whenever one fluttered erratically inside the house. Either way, that critter would not make it out alive. Then I met Dave Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty. I would be “saved,” and so would a lot of moths.
For years, I’d hung around my town’s Butterfly Park and shot photos of beautiful swallowtails, monarchs, great spangled fritillaries, American ladies and more. I never considered that moths hung out there too. I once spent days trying to identify a lovely little Lepidopteran I’d photographed by searching butterfly websites. Finally, a friend found it on a moth site. It was an eight-spotted forester. I had no idea moths could be so cute. Read More
Diver-citizen scientists help find out why there has been a recent increase in the number of Sevengill Sharks spotted in the San Diego area
The first thing the divers noticed upon reaching the bottom was that there were absolutely no fish—anywhere. The lighting, also being strange, lent everything a deserted, eerie feel. But, says diver Mike Bear, “We continued deeper into this spooky, yellowish-green ‘ghost forest’ with its odd, dearth of fish—failing to make the obvious connection in our minds: where had they all the fish gone and why? The previous week, this same area was overflowing with life. Sometimes the fish sense something you don’t.”
Bear and diving buddy Dave Hershman had just entered the water off Point La Jolla. Swimming eastward, separated by about 12 feet of water, quite suddenly a long dark shadow materialized between them, “moving at a good clip,” says Bear. It took a couple of seconds for him to register that this was a fast-moving shark. “By the time he had pulled slightly ahead of me, I saw the characteristic long tail of the Sevengill pass before my face, and from a couple of feet recognized the species.”
What exactly is the Sevengill shark? Filmmaker, diver and founder of the Sevengill citizen science counting project Barbara Lloyd says, “Well, here’s the boring response to that question—scientifically speaking it’s officially known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, and it’s the only existing member of the genus Notorynchus in the family Hexanchidae!”
This fairly large shark grows to about 11 feet, is speckled with gray or brownish spots, and has only seven gills on each side, which distinguishes it from the Bluntnose Sixgill shark. The Sevengill lives in tropical to temperate waters excepting for the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
With this post coinciding with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the more important question might be—have there been any attacks, since such a large predator inhabits these shallow near-shore waters? “Only three suspected attacks have been documented in the last fifty years,” says Lloyd, “with the most recent being in New Zealand in 2009.” They do get aggressive when feeding, mating, are provoked, and interestingly enough in aquariums. “Prior to that the Shark Attack File shows that there have only been five since the 17th Century.”
Lloyd and Bear began the Sevengill Shark ID Project in 2010, after hearing numerous reports of local divers encountering them, reports that had not previously surfaced. “I had been diving regularly in the San Diego area since 2000, averaging about 100 dives per year,” says Bear, “mainly in the area of La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, Wreck Alley and Point Loma, as well as being actively involved in the San Diego diving community. I do not recall hearing any diver reports of encounters with Sevengill sharks much before 2007—and then suddenly we began hearing the first reports from local divers,” he notes.
The project website began as a simple spreadsheet which allowed local divers to log their encounters without photos. From there it developed into the site you see today, which uses photographs and a pattern recognition algorithm to ID individual sharks. The motivation was to answer the scientific question: why was there an apparent increase in encounters between divers and this species from 2007 onward?
Dr. John Hyde a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in San Diego wonders if the answer to that question might just be that it is a combination of more Sevengill sharks congregating in the area, and more divers in the water. “Overall we don’t have a good sense for changes in abundance of Sevengill sharks, but it is likely that they are increasing in number since the 1994 moratorium on nearshore (within three miles) gillnet fisheries in California.” The nearshore gillnet fishery had a significant effect on abundance of many fish species, especially sharks and rays, both as direct mortalities and indirectly by removal of prey items. Hyde adds, “This coupled with increasing numbers of recreational divers, cheaper and better underwater camera systems, and increased awareness of these sharks through social media has led to better documentation of their presence.” Though sevengills are fairly common these days, especially in bay and nearshore regions, there is still a lot of research to be done.
“We want to know why sevengills have been attracted to the La Jolla area over the past five years,” says Bear. “Is it the ocean conditions, changing water temperature, has the location just developed into the ideal nursery or pupping ground, or is it particularly mating-related? There may be an increase in prey, or it could be a combination of a number of these?”
The project has amassed a sizable database of still photographs and video, but they are still in the early stages of data collection and evaluation, and have not published any results yet. Barbara Lloyd has had some success using the pattern recognition algorithm to identify individual sharks.
For all, the most sublime Shark Week sensation would also be the most benign—to be able to dive with these magnificent predators, to be in their presence as they glide majestically by.
Are you a diver who lives in the San Diego area? Help the Sevengill Shark ID project answer their questions! Visit the project page on SciStarter to sign up and learn how to enter your sightings according to the specified protocols.
It’s Shark Week! And that means we’re lining up shark themed citizen science projects that you can participate in. Sign up for our newsletter to know which projects are being featured and watch this space for more blog posts!
Civic minded citizen scientists in your community help meteorologists and the National Weather Service stay abreast of inclement weather with on-the-ground data.
Earlier this week, the Midwest and Northeast were slammed with tornados and thunderstorms that grounded planes and held up trains. Thousands of people along the Northeast corridor lost power as a result.
During such hazardous weather, we rely on the knowledge, skill and expertise of meteorologists and designated emergency personnel to keep us safe and in the know. They in turn rely on data supplied by not just satellites and doppler radars but also – a network of citizen scientists.
But wait. With all our sophisticated technology, what could a few volunteers possibly contribute? Read More
By analyzing images taken during times of humanitarian crises, citizen scientists can help refine a tool for data analysis improve relief efforts.
A guest post by Megan Passey and Jeremy Othenio. Edited by Arvind Suresh
In August 2014, following the fall of Mosul in Iraq, the UN declared the situation a level 3 crisis, the most severe type of humanitarian emergency. Iraq was already home to an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons prior to the current crisis, as well as over 200,000 refugees from Syria.