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Citizen Science

04/25/2015

Citizen science, that blissful art by which we all realize that science is truly accessible, is a field that is growing and helps people from all walks of life make new discoveries every day.

Thanks to citizen science, more and more people are realizing that you do not need a white coat, bubbling flasks with oozing blue liquid, and a mad scientists to make incredible discoveries and work on meaningful science projects. For years now, as topics like global warming, consumer awareness, and species decline have become more prevalent, a wide section of the population has made a real commitment to better understand the several changes that are occurring to the natural world and how we can help conserve what is left. This renewed and sensible behavior towards nature helps us figure out how humans have helped create the changes we see in the natural world and helps determine how we can help repair the damage we’ve caused.

 

Data gathering and making new discoveries in the lab or the field is at the heart of every scientists dream. Our inner child takes over when we see new patterns and processes emerge from our data; we get all excited and want more and more, and we want to let everyone know about this marvelous new discovery. Then comes the realization that with every data gathering comes way more time consuming tasks like extracting data from our results, crunching all of those numbers on a spreadsheet, performing test statistics, drawing graphs and tables.

On top of that, we still have to analyze and interpret all of it so we can make sure that we’ve discovered something and have a strong case to support our findings. Enter citizen science: amateur or nonprofessional scientists conducting scientific research. Thanks to citizen science, we can more easily do this. Citizen science thus provides a double benefit, it helps us (mad) scientists gather data in all fields of science, including conservation and ecology, and it empowers concerned citizens by providing a tool by which we can all help make science and help conserve our planet.

 

In our case, as amphibian conservationists, we gathered a team of Zoo interns and volunteers who acted as citizen scientists and helped us analyze behavioral and ecological data on the breeding behavior of some of the most critically endangered amphibians in Haiti, all from the comfort of the Animal Action Lab in our very own KidZooU.

 

 



Our citizen science interns work hard to help us analyze calls of frogs from the last remaining forests of Haiti. From left to right: Kelsey Ayers looks at some of the recording in search of frog calls, while Eleanor Celmer and Nick Matyi plug in numbers on spreadsheets on the computer at the Animal Action lab on KidZooU.

 



Visual representation of the two-note call of the Tiburón whistling land frog, Eleutherodactylus wetmorei (insert). The top panel is a spectrogram of the call. The image show how the frequencies of the call change through time, the intensity of the call increases from red to yellow and background noise is shown as bluish or purplish colors. The bottom panel is a sonogram that shows how the waveform of the call changes through time. The black lines were added to the image to help visualize the calls. The scale is in seconds, which means that the two-note call lasts about 0.3 seconds. This information is extracted from our recording using specialized software and our citizen science volunteers and interns took the arduous task of analyzing thousands and thousands of calls like this from over 15 species to determine several ecological parameters of these species.

 



By analyzing the calling patterns of frogs in the forests we are able to gather data like this which shows the number of frogs of one species present on a site and its reproductive activity, thus helping us determine if the forests is still good habitat for some of the most critically endangered amphibians in the world.

 

Two years ago, on March 2013, we embarked on a new phase of data gathering in our project as we continue to save endangered amphibians from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We started using a state-of-the-art automated digital bioacoustics monitoring system, a fancy name for an audio recorder that can be manually programmed to record sound for a set number of minutes and a set number of times during a 24-hour period. This system allows us to record calling activities of frogs from different sites within our area of study and monitor changes on the amphibian communities of these sites.

Two years later, we have over 100 nights' worth of data ready to be analyzed by citizen scientists interested in helping us save endangered frogs by learning more about their reproductive behavior in the last remaining forests of Southern Haiti and Dominican Republic.

 

 



The Songmeter® recorders ready to be set up in the field. This audio recorder captures sounds of the environment at set intervals that we can program and then analyze in the lab.

 



The left panel is a screenshot the data files before being analyzed; each file is 53MB files worth of data. The top right panel shows field biologist Cristian Marte and the top bottom panel shows Zoo’s Amphibian Conservation Biologist, Dr. Carlos C. Martínez Rivera, setting up the Songmeter® recorders in the field in the last remaining patches of forest in Ti-Letan, Haiti

 

This weekend, we celebrate the Save The Frogs Day, where different institutions around the world work on various initiatives to educate the public and help others help us save the frogs. Stay tuned if you want to help us Save The Frogs through our citizen science initiatives, such as this one and our FrogWatch® Program at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge here in Philadelphia.