Gardeners Are Scientist: How You Can Help the Science Community From Your Backyard
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A keen eye makes a good gardener. It also makes a good scientist. Observation is a gardener’s most important tool, because the plants and animals we take care of in our gardens don’t read the books we do about them! It is important to watch how the weather turns, understand how our plants and the animals that interact with them change through the seasons, and know when to cut something here or plant something there. This valuable skill and real knowledge can benefit the greater science community beyond the garden gate by participating in citizen science projects!
What is ‘citizen science’?
The concept of ‘citizen science’ has been around for more than a decade and as a tool has ebbed and flowed in popularity in the science community. The US government has been engaging the public since 2009 through the digitization projects at the Smithsonian Institute! Citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research, whether community-driven research or global investigations (Citizen Science Association, 2023). Usually scientists set up a project and ask the general public to help collect and/or analyze data. These projects are not limited to just traditional “science” fields, but include humanities and social sciences, as well!
How to Participate
You usually don’t need any special tools or fancy training! Most project websites have easy, step-by-step guides for how to participate, and most use an app or website that you can access with your smartphone. The Lee County Libraries have citizen science kits that people, families and school groups can check-out for free that have extra tools, like guides, macro lenses and binoculars, to enhance your data-gathering experience!
You can get as shallow or deep as you want. Some projects are one-time events and others can be long-term observations. Most participants find that they deepen their knowledge and love of a subject, as they participate though!
Projects in Lee County!
While citizen science projects can be global in scope, they are just as important within the local community, county or municipality you live in! We are fortunate in Lee County to have a couple of projects you can join to get you started!
Great Southeast Pollinator Census
The Great Southeast Pollinator Census is new to North Carolina in 2023! It is a two-day, event-based citizen science project where participants collect data on August 18 or August 19 (for 2023) using a simple data sheet to observe pollinators on one plant in their community. The observation period is 15 minutes and then the
participant enters the data on the Census
website. Super simple! It can be done anywhere where a plant is flowering and pollinators are visiting it! There is a webinar on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, to learn more about how to participate. The Census was originally the Great Georgia Pollinator Census, and was developed by Dr. Becky Griffin at UGA Extension. It now includes Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. There are almost 6.5 people contributing data to the website, and more than 140 million observations have been made from across the globe. It is also easy for you to contribute to this massive dataset! It is as easy as snappin some photos from your backyard or a walk through the park to send in. The serendipity of getting a couple of good photos and making some observations give scientists the ability to identify organisms from their desktops. A global community of scientists and specialists work towards verifying the identifications that can then be used to understand what is going on in the natural world! You can take pictures of plants, animals and fungi. Taking pictures of even mundane organisms you see every day can help scientists create a picture of what is going on.
People do things for different reasons, and there are common reasons among gardeners that motivate them to garden. A 2021 study found most respondents indicated they gardened for pleasure and enjoyment, but other reasons were: Sensory stimulation; Generic health benefits; Seeing plants and flowers grow; Personal expression and self-identity; and the Love of the activity (Suyin Chalmin-Pui et. al. 2021). Many of us can relate to these findings and find deep connections to why we garden.
These same motivations align with the reasons why folks participate in citizen science projects. A similar study looked at why people participated in the Great Christmas Bird Count, one of the oldest citizen science projects in the country, and found six reasons they were motivated: science and conservation; outdoor recreation and discovery; commitment and tradition; social interaction; classic birding; and personal accomplishment (Larson, et. al., 2020)”.
Citizen science projects are local and global in scale, and can cover a wide variety of topics! There are so many projects where you can explore and use your passion to help scientists. Join others in Lee County by participating in the Great Southeast Pollinator Census, iNaturalist observations or other SciStarter projects through the Citizen Science Kits at the Lee County Libraries!
Citizen Science Projects and Portals:
- Great Southeast Pollinator Census
- iNaturalist Project at Pollinator Haven Garden
- Observe Ghost Forests at Beach State Parks on vacation
- Project BudBurst
- List from Scientific American
- List from National Geographic Society
- Pollinator-Related List of Project
- Smithsonian Institute Digitization Program Office (DPO)
- Citizen Science
- The diverse motivations of citizen scientists: Does conservation emphasis grow as volunteer participation progresses? Lincoln R. Larson, Caren B. Cooper, Sara Futch, Devyani Singh, Nathan J. Shipley, Kathy Dale, Geoffrey S. LeBaron, John Y. Takekawa, Biological Conservation, Volume 242, February 2020, 108428
- Why do people garden?
- Toolkit for Designing a Citizen Science Project
- Resource Library for Citizen Science
- NC State Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program- Leadership in Public Science
- Research about How Citizen Science is Working (NC State)
For more reading: The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. By: D. Cavalier, C. Hoffman & C. Cooper
Amanda Wilkins is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.