Citizen scientists help collect data

PAUL SMITHS – There is more than one way to get involved in science.

In fact, there are dozens.

Last week, Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretation Center naturalist Brian McAllister gave a presentation on the many citizen science programs available locally and beyond. The programs are an opportunity for volunteers to join the scientific process by collecting information and submitting it to databases that are used by scientists.

The data spans every possible interest a novice naturalist might have – from earthworms and wildflowers to birds and budding trees – and collecting it can be done sporadically or daily.

Participants can take classes or training workshops, like the Adirondack Wetland Monitoring Program: Frogs and Toads workshop today at the VIC, to learn how to identify different species and where to best find them.

McAllister explained that citizen scientists enter their observations into any one of a number of online databases. That information can include details like the species, weather, time of day and GPS coordinates of the observation.

Although there is room for error with citizen science, the data is still a valuable resource for identifying trends in nature that can include population shifts and migration patterns.

McAllister said some of those changes have already been observed in the Adirondacks.

“We seem to be watching an earlier migration occur,” McAllister said. “That means birds are arriving here a week, or sometimes 10 days earlier than what it used to be. There seems to be a growing body of evidence that’s showing that things are happening here.”

Another thing scientists and their citizen counterparts in the Adirondacks are watching is an apparent northward push of some species, which are now being spotted outside of their traditional ranges.

“A bird called a red-bellied woodpecker has always been a true southeast species, from Florida on up to the mid-Atlantic states,” McAllister said. “We’re starting to see them expand northward. We have them in Essex County, we have them in Clinton County and northern Vermont is starting to see them, too.”

McAllister said one of the largest local citizen science projects is the All-Taxa Biological Inventory, which aims to survey all of the living organisms in the Adirondacks. The annual bioblitz sets participants loose on a two-day biological inventory in a centralized location to collect data for the ATBI. The Center for Adirondack Biodiversity organizes the event, which was held in Saranac Lake last summer and will take place in Newcomb June 28 and 29.

“We want to engage all of the citizens out there,” McAllister said. “We want to get everyone involved so they can be our eyes and ears.”

The Adirondack Wetland Monitoring Program: Citizen Science Training Workshop I: Frogs and Toads runs from 2 to 5 p.m. today. For more information call the VIC at 518-327-6241 For more information on the bioblitz, contact the Center for Adirondack Biodiversity director Dave Patrick at 518-327-6174 or by email at dpatrick@paulsmiths.edu.