As stay-at-home and lockdown orders disconnect us from people and places, our access to nature and our nature-loving communities has drastically changed. Contributing to citizen and community science projects (CCS) can help us stay connected. Here are some ideas to get started, but you can find a huge world of projects at SciStarter.
Projects when you can get outside – in a park, a neighborhood walk, or your own backyard.
iNat is a social network for nature. It's a platform for thousands of CCS, serving as a repository of biodiversity data that's easy for anyone to add to. . Once you create a free account, with a cell phone,tablet, or computer you can start uploading your own observations of nature by uploading a photo or sound clip. For the best experience, make sure your location is turned on. Along with your picture, the app will record the time and location. These are the metadata (data about the data) that you and other community and professional scientists can use to understand more about the biodiversity around you. Once you post your observation, you can use a built in feature to automatically help you identify it. Other iNat users can also help you identify what you saw. When another user confirms your ID, it's considered research grade. You can join existing projects that collect observations from many users – for example, the City Nature Challenge compares biodiversity across metropolitan areas all over the world. You can also create your own projects – for example a class or a school can have all their students contribute their observations to a project. You can also use existing observations to create field guides for your neighborhood, school, or town.
Teachers can use the main iNat app if their students are over the age of 13. However, if poor quality observations are uploaded, that reduces the credibility of the overall iNat database. Students under or over 13 can also use Seek by iNaturalist, which shows suggested IDs, what's been found nearby, and gives badges for finding diverse taxa.. For more information about using iNat in the K12 classroom, check out the Teacher's Guide.
If you have, or are interested in putting up, a birdfeeder, you can participate in Project Feederwatch from your backyard, or even from behind a window! The project lets you contribute important data about the distribution and behavior of common backyard birds. Not sure about your photography skills? NO need! The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology backs you up with an easy to use upload platform and guides to identifying your birds. You can find other Cornell citizen science projects here.
Many pollinator species are in trouble – you can help scientists understand how to help them! The Great Sunflower Project started out in California. Participants were asked to plant a specific sunflower species and record what kinds and how many insects visited it. You can now participate from anywhere in the US with any plants in your backyard (as long as you are positive of their identification) through the Pollinator Friendly Plants project. You create an account, then report how many pollinators you can observe over 5 minute periods. Data sheets, and identification guides to bees and other pollinators are available at their website.
This project is all about learning and helping to collect data about how plants change over the course of a year – from budding, to flowering, to leafing out, to, for many trees, dropping leaves. The science of studying how organisms react to environmental changes in day length, temperature, rainfall etc. throughout the year is called phenology – and changes in phenology are evidence of changes in climatic conditions. Tracking this can be a little difficult for younger family members, but kids can learn about these changes in their own yard or in public or natural areas with the new Budburst for Families program, and teachers can visit here.
Interested in the weather? You can contribute to understanding how weather varies across the world, and changes in weather with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network. With a few simple tools – a rain gauge and a DIY hail pad, you can collect data about one of our most precious resources, fresh water, and contribute information that can be used to inform emergency preparation for communities during storm events. Learn more about it through their introductory slide show. Getting started and entering data will need quite a bit of help from adults for younger participants.
Projects to contribute to science from your computer
Your help is needed to identify natural phenomenon from remote locations! With increases in computing power and devices for remotely observing, the number of images these projects have collected is greater than what professional scientists can process. From images of remote galaxies to wildlife captured on trail cameras, you can help turn images into data from anywhere with internet connection. Hundreds of project opportunities can be found at Zooniverse. A few projects are highlighted below.
Identify new worlds from space: the final frontier! At Galaxy Zoo, you'll help search through images sent from remove orbital telescopes to find new galaxies and stars.
Remote Camera Identification
Help identify creatures from trail cameras set up throughout the US with EMammal. You can participate even if you are unsure of your ID skills. As they point out, if 20 untrained observers identify an image as a deer, it's probably a deer. There are several sub-projects for different regions. Zooniverse also hosts similar projects all over the world, with several in hard to reach destinations in Africa, the Antarctic, and across the US and Canada – see if there is one for your town, state, or province! Interested in oceans? Floating Forests asks you to help monitor kelp forests.
CCS at UC ANR
Community and citizen science (CCS) refers to scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. As both a field of research and an evolving area of scientific practice, CCS has grown rapidly in recent years. UCANR has been engaging with the public and a variety of clientele communities for more than a century, and much of this engagement has involved clientele participating directly in research.
MERENLENDER, A.M., CRALL, A.W., DRILL, S., PRYSBY, M., and BALLARD, H. 2016. Evaluating environmental education, citizen science, and stewardship through naturalist programs. Conservation Biology (pdf)