Sunday, May 3, 2020

Citizen Science and the City Nature Challenge 2020

Citizen Science and the City Nature Challenge 2020
 

     Citizen Science is a growing trend. It is scientific research gathering and data collection done by the general public rather than by professionals. This can truly add to scientific knowledge. The largest of all these efforts is the City Nature Challenge. This worldwide 4-day competition involves over 244 cities throughout the globe, each using the free iNaturalist application to report observations of all things natural using both cell phone and camera pictures. These observations are data mined by scientists and add to natural history knowledge. This year, due to the corvid19 issues, there was no worldwide competition, but rather an effort to get people to get to know and practice with the app, discover what was growing in their backyards.
     Every year, I look forward to see what new discoveries are made during the challenge. Often its personal observations, such as the one I made of a Common Loon at one of my neighborhood lakes. A first for me and only the second recorded this year for the DC region. But there's always some great new more dramatic discoveries as well.
     This year was no different. A longtime student volunteer named Luca Catanzaro was just starting his City Nature Challenge observations near Long Branch Nature Center. Luca is no stranger to the iNaturalist app and this competition. He's currently 4th in observations with 669 and 6th in species count with 248. He's been part of bioblitzes and part of the Virginia Herpetological Society and their surveys as well. He did not need the suggestions offered by the iNaturalist app to know he had found something new. When he made the observations of a White-spotted Slimy Salamander (Plethodon cylindriceus), he new it was something special. His experience with the Virginia Herpetological Society told him he should report what he had not just to iNaturalist as part of the City Nature Challenge, but to the state ID team, of which I'm a member. The discovery was quickly verified.
 
A White-spotted Slimy Salamander (Plethodon cylindriceus) called this due to their habit of releasing sticky slime when handled.
 
     A White-spotted Slimy Salamander had not been seen in Arlington County since 1977! Now this discovery was special on many counts. Long Branch Nature Center had been part of numerous biotic surveys for years. I myself had conducted surveys there for many years, as had numerous others. In all those years, no one had found one. A search for this species had been done in other parks in Arlington where it had not been seen for many years, without success. Despite all these searches, a young amateur herpetologist and citizen scientist during the City Nature Challenge had been the one who had finally found it.
 
 
 
 
     This is the essence of Citizen Science, not professionals making these discoveries, but regular citizens using all their additional eyes and using a free app to record their observations. That this was part of an organized global survey of citizen scientists just goes to prove how everyday people with an interest in research can supply these observations that can benefit all. There are more discoveries to be made in our own backyards, and it doesn't take a professional to make them. It also shows that some of what we're doing battling invasives, allowing native plants to grow back, and protecting the environment does indeed work. If you ever wanted to now what you can do to help out, it can be as easy becoming a citizen scientist.
 
The iNaturalist observation as part of the City Nature Challenge for DC that Luca made.
 


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