Getting Involved in Citizen Science

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Whether you are a lover of science, nature, data, or all the above; citizen science is a great way for people just like you to participate in scientific processes by collecting data through programs such as  the tracking of native butterfly populations, identifying native plant species and wildlife, monitoring your local streams and rivers, and so much more. Citizen science is a great opportunity to get outside to collect information from your local environment and share it with the scientific community.

Anyone can be involved in citizen science. With most programs, protocols are created to provide guidance on information to be collected so data is consistent and high quality. Programs also provide identification guides and other informational manuals to provide participants with the resources to successfully collect data. The data collected from these projects can be used to help scientists draw real conclusions which is later shared back with the volunteers and the public.

One of my favorite citizen science efforts is the Great Backyard Bird Count from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each year in February, participants are encouraged to watch birds (for only 15 minutes per day) in their backyard or anywhere else to help provide scientists a snapshot of bird populations before the birds’ annual migrations. Over a 4-day period, you count the birds in your yard and submit the sightings online to the website. This effort takes place worldwide with the results shared online and back to the participants. For those interested in getting involved, you can find more information about this citizen science effort at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Other great programs for getting involved in citizen science include the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, Illinois River Watch, Bee Spotter, Monarch Watch, Calling Frog Survey, Project BudBurst, and so many more. For a great list of opportunities, check out this list from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Topics covered include environmental science, animal science, astronomy, and more.

Good Growing Tip: Citizen science is a great activity to get all ages involved. There are many fun activities that kids can do, and projects can even be done in groups!

MEET THE AUTHOR

Katie Parker is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler counties. Katie provides programming with an emphasis on row crop production, soil fertility, composting, vegetable production, and ornamental horticulture.

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