If there’s one thing I hope to accomplish with this blog, it’s that folks reading it will be inspired to become their own citizen scientists. Increasingly, the data collected by ordinary people, including gardeners like us is being used to inform science and policy. Here are some examples of how powerful citizen science can be.
Urban forest-mapping in Montreal
A Concordia project cataloging the diversity of the urban forest in a Montreal residential neighborhood is now complete, and the researchers behind it say the results highlight the importance of a diverse city tree population. The project found that private residences and institutions such as schools and places of worship usually had different tree populations from those planted by municipal authorities in city parks and roadways or sidewalks. While the city-planted trees tended to be bigger and more resilient to stressors like drought or salt, the often-smaller private trees served other functions such as providing fruit, flowers or aesthetic beauty. The full findings are published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. The researchers solicited residents and institutions such as schools and churches around Concordia’s Loyola Campus in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. They asked them to measure the circumference of the trees on their property, photograph their bark and leaves and submit their data to the Montreal Tree Project website for analysis. Private residences were found to have the highest richness in species diversity while institutional lands—mostly schools and churches—were found to have the lowest. “From an ecological standpoint, having a diverse tree population leads to a more multifunctional landscape,” says Hutt-Taylor, now the project coordinator of nature-based solutions at Concordia’s Loyola Campus. “It can also provide a more resilient forest to events like climate change, changes in the environmental fabric of the city as well as to pests and disease.”
Everyday Aussies help find missing plant species
Scientists have identified six new or rediscovered Western Australian plant species from photos taken and uploaded to the internet by members of the public, including a nature photographer from Jurien Bay, a pair of wildflower enthusiasts from Dongara and a farmer from near the Stirling Range National Park. Lead researcher, Ph.D. student Thilo Krueger from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences said the newly described species were carnivorous sundews and were identified through images shared on Facebook and to the iNaturalist website, highlighting the value of such platforms for contributing to advances in taxonomic research. The work was published in Biology.
Citizen science initiatives increase pollinator activity in private gardens
Have you made adjustments to your garden to make it more welcoming for pollinators? If so, you have probably made a valuable contribution, according to a new study from Lund University. The researchers evaluated the national “Operation: Save the Bees” campaign, and their results indicate that what private individuals do in their gardens really can make a positive difference. In 2018, The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation launched a campaign to save bees and other pollinators, aiming to get the public involved by creating more favorable environments in private gardens. The actions that were encouraged were to create a meadow, plant flowers or set up a bee hotel. Around 11,000 Swedes responded to the call, and now researchers from Lund University have evaluated the measures. The result show that the greatest positive effect on the number of pollinating insects was if you had a meadow with a higher number of flowering species in your garden. As for flower plantings, it was favorable if they were older and also covered a larger area. Bee hotels, in turn, were more often inhabited if they were located in flower-rich gardens, if they were older, and if the nest holes were a maximum of one centimeter in diameter. Since the researchers collected the data via peoples’ own estimates, there is a great deal of uncertainty in each individual data point, says Anna Persson, but adds that one can still be confident in the results given that so many responses were received. The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.
RHS asks gardeners to find interesting ‘weeds’
Helena Horton writes in The Guardian about a citizen science initiative by the Royal Horticultural Society. Private gardens in the UK may be an untapped source of scientific discovery, according to the RHS’s new ecologist, because “scientists can’t just go into people’s gardens”. Instead, Gemma Golding, who started working for the charity late last year, wants gardeners to look for interesting species and submit them to the iNaturalist app for scientists to analyse. What may be viewed as a weed could be a rare plant, or growing in an unusual place where it has not been recorded before. The quid pro quo is that gardeners will get feedback on the mystery plants they find. Armed with more knowledge, they will be better able to manage problems that crop up in their gardens.