What’s in store for citizen scientists this spring

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    One citizen science project this spring is called BudBurst which encourages people to pay attention to the life cycle changes of plants and animals. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Newman)

    One citizen science project this spring is called BudBurst which encourages people to pay attention to the life cycle changes of plants and animals. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Newman)

    As the weather starts warming up and we all begin shedding our thick, winter coats, a crop of new citizen science projects are enticing us to get outdoors in the name of science.

    Darlene Cavalier, founder of the citizen science website SciStarter and regular Pulse contributor, says a top project this spring involves paying attention to phenology, or the life cycle changes of plants and animals.

    “This might be changes in the nesting habits of birds, certainly in the leafing cycle of plants near you and, specifically, looking at the timing that your lilacs bloom and when they die,” says Cavalier.

    All of that information is connected in the sense that birds tend to time their nesting habits to when insects will likely be around to feed their baby birds. And those insects are dependent on certain plants to be around to survive.

    Cavalier says the information that’s collected through this phenology project will eventually help inform climate assessment acts in the U.S.

    As part of the Philadelphia Science Festival in April, the SciStarter crew will be at the Schuylkill Nature Center in Roxborough to get people involved in the Zombee Watch project.

    “We have zombie flies that actually infect honeybees and we’ll tell you how to look for that,” says Cavalier. “It’s pretty disgusting and it’s also eerily attractive for some reason.”

    But Cavalier says not all scientific research has to happen outdoors. Much of citizen science can be done through new apps and sensors on your phone. For instance, Cavalier will also be showing people how to measure air quality, indoor and outdoor, using phone sensors. The SciStarter crew may even run a contest to help people figure out who has the fastest elevator in Philadelphia, using phone sensors. 

    “It’s so wonderful to see how accessible these tools are now for people to be able to participate in their own research,” says Cavalier. 

    For more information on any of these projects and others, go to SciStarter.com

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