6 citizen science projects to get the whole family outdoors

Published: April 12, 2021

two-young-boys-holding-and-looking-at-a-monarch-butterfly-outside Photo by MadeK/Shutterstock

Citizen science invites everyday people to help researchers by keeping an eye out for animals like birds, butterflies, or bats. This family-friendly activity is dual purpose: participants get a chance to learn about the natural world, and scientists get a big fat data set to boost their research. Furthermore, many Canadian wildlife populations are quickly declining, making environmental monitoring all the more vital. Information gleaned from citizen science projects can help researchers and conservationists make more informed decisions. Here are six programs to help you get started as a citizen scientist:

Mission Monarch

Mission monarch is run by the Montreal Space for Life Insectarium and is part of a global collaboration to protect migratory monarchs. Monarch butterflies make a remarkable 5000-km migration from Mexico to Canada, a trip that takes generations. But this impressive journey also makes their population vulnerable–if one of their favourite habitats is disturbed, it’s like a broken link along the migratory chain. And unfortunately, over the last few years monarch butterflies have seen a population crash. The reasons for which are complex, but factors include extreme climate events, habitat loss, and pesticides.

Mission Monarch encourages participants to go hunting for milkweed–the monarch’s favourite food. Once a milkweed plant is found, citizen scientists will record if they notice any eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, or butterflies, and send their observations to Mission Monarch. With this dataset, researchers will be able to map and identify breeding hotspots to better inform conservation policies.

Batwatch

Researchers from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Yukon are enlisting the help of everyday people to help them monitor bat populations from across the country. In 2006, a Eurasian fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats struck North America, and there’s been a devastating decline in bat populations ever since. Three species of bat, the little brown, northern long-eared, and tri-coloured, have even been listed as endangered in Canada.

Through Batwatch, citizen scientists will be able to document the location of a bat house they’ve installed, the location of a colony, the number of bats in a colony, and individual sightings. The database will help researchers keep tabs on bat populations.

Frogwatch

This citizen science project asks participants to sit by their local watershed and listenin the springtime, male frogs and toads will make distinctive calls to mark their territory and attract a mate. Frogs and toads are also very sensitive to their environment, making them a great indicator species for things like climate change or pollution.

Frogwatch provides resources on how to identify different frog and toad calls in your area and asks citizen scientists to record observations on the different calls they hear. This database of observations can then be used by scientists to study species ranges and distribution, population trends, and track the effects of climate change on species.

Water rangers

Water Rangers is for anyone passionate about their local river, lake or beach. Participants can rent or purchase a water test kit that includes instructions and equipment to test for factors like pH, dissolved oxygen, or chlorine. Monitoring watersheds provides important baseline data for scientists, so when incidents like pollutant runoff or toxic algal blooms occur, researchers can compare the data to what was known before. The program also aims to build a sense of community and empower citizens to take stewardship over their local watershed.

eBird

eBird is a global citizen science project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Their open platform allows birders from around the world to share sightings, pictures, and sound recordings in a massive database, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year. The app can also map species distributions and alerts users on birding hotspots and species sightings. Their massive, open dataset can be used by researchers, conservationists, and educators around the world.

eButterfly

Like eBird, eButterfly is an online network that allows users to record and share sightings and photos of butterflies. The project began as a lofty goal from a University of Ottawa graduate student and has now expanded to all of North America. In addition to letting users document and share each other’s findings, the site provides resources in best data collection practices and practical tips on how to spot and identify different species. Like eBird, their open data set will be available for scientists, land managers, and educators.

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