Attention, Gardeners! Science needs you to join the army of citizens advancing the body of scientific knowledge.
Citizen scientists are the extra eyes researchers need to help look for nine-spotted ladybugs, note the first tulips in spring or keep watch for endangered arboreal toads. They partner with scientists to provide valuable data that helps answer real-world questions.
Volunteers can join any number of organized efforts to use their backyard living laboratories to observe plants, insects, birds or other animals and report their findings. Researchers say citizen scientist initiatives help identify signs of climate change, track migrating species and monitor the health of animals and the environment.
Whether you prefer to watch birds or bees, monitor blooming plants or count the spots on ladybugs, there’s a science project waiting for you.
For example, citizen scientists in Boulder are helping real scientists at the University of Colorado gather data on bees for a program called “The Bees’ Needs.”
If you’re a gardener, citizen science is probably second nature to you. After all, gardeners already spend plenty of time outside keeping an eye on what’s happening in the landscape.
Here are a few citizen science projects you might like to try:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York thinks all birds deserve to be celebrated. Volunteer birdwatchers get a free Celebrate Birds kit and then spend 10 minutes observing and recording their bird observations. The project collects data on the numbers and behavior of 16 species of resident and migratory birds like American Robins, House Sparrows, American Crows, Mourning Doves, and Peregrine Falcons. Celebrate Urban Birds also encourages people to find ways to green up their landscapes as bird havens.
If you’re interested in helping bees, toss a few Lemon Queen sunflower seeds in the garden. The Great Sunflower Project studies the number of bees in urban areas and how that affects pollination of garden plants and crops. Volunteers count the number of bees landing on sunflowers in 15-minute increments and report their observations.
Gardeners who eagerly watch for the first signs of spring can put their observation skills to use helping scientists track the effects of global warming and climate change. Volunteers with Project Budburst study the phenophases or life cycles of 90 targeted species of flowers, herbs, grasses, trees and shrubs to identify the timing of each first day of a plant’s life cycle. Knowing the day of first leaf, first flower or first ripe fruit helps advance understanding of how our environment is changing.
Use your butterfly garden to track declining populations of Monarch Butterflies as they migrate to and from Mexico each spring and fall. Observations can be reported on real-time migration maps on the website. If you don’t have a butterfly garden now, plant Common Milkweed to serve as food for caterpillars in spring and butterfly bush or purple coneflowers to provide nectar during the fall migration.
Populations of native ladybugs are on the decline and scientists need help finding out why. Entomologists at Cornell need ladybug lovers to take pictures and send in the images. Since the Lost LadyBug Project launched in 2008, more than 6,000 ladybugs have been added to the database. Thanks to this citizen science initiative, researchers are now finding ways to help rare species of ladybugs survive for the future. The website includes free educational materials to help get kids involved.