Celebrating Community Science Month – How you can get involved

Featured Image Caption: Across Ohio, community scientists helped track native and non-native ladybugs in their backyards (Image Source: “Ladybug in hand” by ravitch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Reference: Gardiner, M. M., Perry, K. I., Riley, C. B., Turo, K. J., Delgado de la flor, Y. A., & Sivakoff, F. S. (2021). Community science data suggests that urbanization and forest habitat loss threaten aphidophagous native lady beetles. Ecology and Evolution, 11, 2761–2774 https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.7229

What is community science?

April is global community science month. To celebrate, let’s define community science, give an example of community science in action, and provide resources on how to get involved.

Community scientists, like the people investigating this pond, are people who are passionate about science and volunteer to collect data for scientific research (Image Source: “Citizen Science Volunteers” by Mount Rainier NPS is licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Community science is a way for people interested in science and dedicated to improving society to participate in scientific research. You may also see community science called citizen science. However, leaders in environmental science are swapping citizen for the more inclusive term, community. Anyone can participate in community science, despite citizen status, although the intention of the term citizen science was never to exclude anyone. Across the globe, participants can record observations, collect data, and analyze or report results. There are thousands of ongoing projects from a variety of fields that anyone can join. Community science is a great way to connect experts with the public, all in the name of advancing science.

Community science is a vital tool for scientific research. Science experts are unable to conduct research on private property without consent. However, many research questions would benefit from the valuable data at peoples’ residences. Community scientists can observe and collect this helpful information from their backyards. With assistance from the public, scientists can collect larger datasets, over a wider area, in a shorter time. Community science has offered meaningful data for diverse science fields and has been very useful for ecology and environmental science.

Backyards could be a fruitful place for scientific research, but scientists cannot access private property. That is where community science comes in (Image Source: “Backyard garden” by F. D. Richards is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

Ecology and environmental science have benefitted from community science in several ways. Participants can detect and track non-native species to ensure these species do not take over ecosystems. Community scientists also help monitor the habitat ranges of rare species and rediscover species thought to be extinct. With more eyes on the environment, vulnerable habitats and species can be managed and improved.

Community Science and Ladybugs

Native ladybug numbers are declining due to growing populations of non-native ladybugs. Non-native ladybugs eat the eggs and larvae of native ladybugs. Other predators also feast on more eggs of native ladybugs than non-native ladybugs. The growth of cities and fragmentation of natural habitats may facilitate the takeover by non-native ladybugs. Ladybugs are critical species in the environment because they feast on aphids, mildew, and other pests. City gardens may offer refuges for ladybugs, as they are very common in residential gardens. However, researchers do not have access to these habitats. That is where community science can help!

Dr. Mary Gardiner and her colleagues trained community scientists to identify and record ladybug species in their backyards. Participants from all over Ohio joined the Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz project. All community scientists received three-hour training from the researchers about how to collect and identify the ladybugs.  Participants set up sticky traps for a week in June and August, reported how many of each species they caught, and mailed the sticky traps back to the researchers.

Psyllobora vigintimaculata (a native ladybug, left) and Harmonia axyridis (a non-native ladybug, right) were the two most common ladybugs found (Image Source: left, “Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle – Psyllobora vigintimaculata” by Wedontneedfeatherstofly is licensed under CC BY 2.0; right, “Harlequin ladybird – Harmonia axyridis” by Danny Chapman is licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Over four years, participants captured 1136 ladybugs and identified four non-native species and nine native species. Native ladybugs were more abundant in gardens nearer to forests than gardens surrounded by city landscape. Non-native ladybugs were most abundant in gardens near agricultural land. Therefore, the researchers hypothesize that the forest habitat is vital for the survival of native ladybugs. Forests may offer native ladybugs a refuge from non-native species. Residential gardens near forests could help slow the decline of native ladybugs in Ohio. Cities seemed to be the least desirable habitats for native and non-native ladybugs, and residential gardens may make cities more habitable.

Ready to get involved?

The Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz project would not be possible without the help of community scientists. Community science is a powerful tool to advance science, foster a deeper understanding of science, and influence science policy decisions. Through community science, people of all ages can get involved in scientific research. That includes you!

Community science can be done in any location, even your backyard or local parks (Image Source: Brandi Pessman).

April is global community science month, making today the perfect day to join in. If you are reading this article, chances are you already have an interest in science and its impact on society. Community science is an opportunity to explore those interests and make an impact. To get started, check out SciStarter.org. Here you will learn more about featured projects, daily themes and events, extra resources, and ways to follow on social media. Are you ready to start collecting data? Check out the project finder to find a project in your area that fits your interests, age, and location. You may see the data you collect appear in a scientific publication like Dr. Gardiner’s.

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Brandi Pessman

I am a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the School of Biological Sciences. Growing up on a farm in a small town in Illinois, I developed an early love for animals and a fascination with their behaviors. When I was younger, however, it never crossed my mind that I would be using spiders to investigate how human presence affects animal behavior, but I am loving every second of it. Studying the behaviors of animals can tell us a lot about the role that we play in their survival (or death), which is becoming increasingly important as human populations continue to grow. When I am not studying spiders, I enjoy playing with my cat or being outdoors!

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