Charles Bevilacqua - Citizen Scientist, member of Loving Garland Green and Monarch Whisperer
Parks and community gardens are perfect settings for Citizen Scientist projects. Non-Scientists can meaningfully contribute to scientific projects. Citizen Scientist projects are excellent projects for Scout and other youth groups. In fact, such projects can end up being career paths for students.
As we move toward our third anniversary as stewards of the Garland Community Garden, Loving Garland Green is also moving toward establishing more citizen scientist projects in the garden. We want to encourage people to get out and enjoy nature. Enjoying nature is a proven healthy activity. In fact, spending time in nature makes people feel more alive and improves their overall health. [http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3639] When we better understand the ongoing daily dramas and life cycles of nature, we will understand more clearly and respect the important relationship these activities have to the quality of our own lives.
One of our programs that we presented in the garden last fall was All About Native Bees. Many folks don’t realize that while the European Honeybee is important, it is by no means the only bee. We have about 879 different species of native bees here in Texas. Our native bees are solitary creatures who do not build community hives, nor do they make honey for human consumption. Most of them are ground nesters. Some species are so tiny they are often mistaken for flies. Among the many good things about them is that most of them don’t sting humans and those that do sting do not cause allergic shock as does the Honeybee for some people.
Citizen Scientist Projects with Pollinators
The insect world is a critical part of the human world. One of every three bites of food that we put into our mouths is thanks to a pollinator—most of whom are insects. Loving Garland Green has an informal program in place for a couple of years now with the Monarch butterfly in support of our Mayor’s work with other mayors across the USA who have signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
We installed a butterfly garden and a sign with photographs of all the butterflies native to North Texas—many of which visit our garden. For the past two years members of Loving Garland Green have also rescued caterpillars from the garden and placed them in a temporary habitat (mesh laundry basket) to ensure they are able to complete their lifecycle. We have shared many of these caterpillars with our local schools. When mature, we release the butterflies in the garden.
This past fall we also have begun tagging Monarch butterflies. In 2016 we tagged 35 monarchs and noted the time, date, sex of the monarch, R(for raised) and C (for captured). This information we reported to Monarch Watch www.monarchwatch.org —a cooperative network of students, teachers, volunteers and researchers dedicated to the study of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).
Beginning in August when we start to see Monarchs returning, we plan to capture with approved butterfly nets, tag and release. We secure our tagging kit materials from Monarch Watch.
Citizen Scientist Projects can be varied and many.
There are many classifications of scientific activities that can be undertaken by Citizen Scientists. One of them is biosurveillance. There are countless activities in nature that would benefit people from reports gathered from biosurveillance.
In fact, what started my thoughts rolling toward the topic of this article was the photograph of the wasp (Cerceris fumipennis) in the previous article. I learned about this creature in my Master Gardener course. It lays its eggs in a live beetle. It prefers beetles with a metallic sheen to their bodies. The female Cerceris fumipennis stings the beetle, paralyzing it and then drags it back to her ground nest. Once she has amassed enough beetles to feed her eggs, she will lay the eggs inside the beetle. The larvae will then feed on the live beetle.
This sounds rather awful, but then so is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)—a non-native wood-boring pest of ash trees that poses a significant threat to both stressed and healthy ash trees. Native to Asia it was first discovered in Michigan in 2002. Now it is found in 26 states and has killed tens of millions of ash trees. Texas is home to seven species of Ash that are susceptible to the EAB. And yes, the EAB has arrived in Texas. Read more about what the Texas A&M Forest Service is doing to reduce the devastating impact of this insect. http://tfsweb.tamu.edu/content/article.aspx?id=24246
The Texas statewide plan includes monitoring beetle movement, conducting educational campaigns, providing technical assistance in prevention, preparation and recovery, and working with regulatory agencies in considering and establishing quarantines in affected counties.
How can Citizen Scientists support efforts to combat the EAB?
Citizen Scientists could easily be trained to recognize the Cerceris Wasp. Excellent literature abounds on the topic. The surveillance activities are simple: Locate the ground nests of Cerceris Wasps and monitor the types of beetles they bring to the nest. When an EAB is identified, report that to the appropriate scientific authority in your community or state. Of course this is just an overview. It is important that a proper schedule is set up as you don’t want to systematically remove the entire food source for future generations from the wasp.
HOW TO SET UP A CITIZEN SCIENTIST PROGRAM IN YOUR COMMUNITY
The ideal community sources for managing and dispersing information regarding these programs might include your local parks department, public school system, local garden clubs and other nonprofit organizations. Let them know that you would like to see these opportunities developed in your community. You might begin by listing at least 20 Citizen Science Projects that appeal to you and then contacting people in your local community to further the development of a Citizen Scientist program to support these programs in your community.
Citizen Science Alliance - www.citizensciencealliance.org
Texas Bee Watchers - www.beewatchers.com
Monarch Watch www.monarchwatch.org
Texas Master Naturalist