Citizen Science

Citizen science (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or non-professional scientists. Citizen science may be performed by individuals, teams, or networks of volunteers. Citizen scientists often partner with professional scientists to achieve common goals. Large volunteer networks often allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means. Citizen science networks are often involved in the observation of cyclic events of nature (phenology), such as effects of global warming on plant and animal life in different geographic areas, and in monitoring programs for natural-resource management. Many citizen-science projects serve education and outreach goals. These projects may be designed for a formal classroom environment or an informal education environment such as clubs or museums.

Citizen-science activities can take many forms:

    • Citizen scientists can help gather data that will be analysed by professional researchers. The National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900, is a good example. Another local example is the Renfrew County Biotabase, an on-line database of Renfrew County flora and fauna.
    • Citizen scientists can help analyse data that has been gathered by professional researchers.
  • Citizen scientists can volunteer at a research center or join a research expedition, such as those organized by the Earthwatch Institute.
  • Citizen scientists can travel to areas that are seldom visited by professional researchers.


Suggestions on observing nature

What is Citizen Science? Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories, but in Nature Notebook attention is on observaing the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. Other examples:

Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey

The ruffed grouse is a forest species widely distributed across New York State. While some grouse are found in more mature forests, the greatest population densities are in younger-aged forests. These species prefer habitats in an early stage of succession such as young forests, shrublands, and old orchards and fields. As New York's forests grow older, these preferred habitats are declining, resulting in a decline in grouse and woodcock numbers since the 1960s. Turkey hunters in pursuit of that wary gobbler this spring are ideally suited for monitoring ruffed grouse during the breeding season.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) currently monitors grouse populations in the fall through the Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log where hunters record the number of birds flushed per hour of hunting effort. The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey provides a harvest-independent index of grouse distribution and abundance during the critical breeding season in the spring. Grouse and woodcock share many of the same habitats, so the information you provide will help monitor populations of both of these great game birds as habitats change both locally and on a landscape scale.

More »

PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Joe Martens, Commissioner

DATES: Ongoing


More Science

Bat Detective

Halloween may be over for another year, but citizen scientists can still help their professional peers better understand these nocturnal creatures by listening to recordings and identifying different bat calls. The goal is to use citizen-science classifications to create software that researchers worldwide can use to extract information from bat recordings, making it really easy to track bat populations. This will make understanding how bat populations are being effected by global change much easier.

Bat Detective begins its journey in Europe and, over the course of the project will release data from more areas from around the world. In Europe, there are more than 40 species of bats, and all use echolocation to eat insects. Most species hibernate to escape the food shortage in insects during the winter. Others migrate to other parts of Europe during winter, but very little is known about which species do this. In the summer, most species split into separate female and male roosts (in buildings, tree cavities, under bridges, caves), where the males just chill out whilst the females busily gather insects to raise their baby. During the autumn the males and females come back together again to mate and then don’t emerge again until the next spring.

Many believe that monitoring the status of bat populations can help tell us about the health of a natural environment as a whole; the bats serve as an early warning, like a canary in a coal mine. This is because bat species are distributed all over the world, and provide lots of services to humans through controlling pests by eating vast quantities of insects and pollinating and dispersing commercially important crops (for example bananas, tequila).

Bat Detective is a partnership project between University College London, Zoological Society of London, The Bat Conservation Trust, BatLife Europe, University of Auckland, and the Citizen Science Alliance.

More »

PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity

DATES: Ongoing