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Crowdsourcing Science: How Everyday Citizens make large-scale Science Possible

How Everyday Citizens make large-scale Science Possible

By Sara Stevens, Aquarist at Butterfly Pavilion

Imagine you’re walking down a quiet, sunny trail. A large and expansive pond to your side ripples as a gentle wind stirs the water’s surface. Birds exchange songs in the distance as the sun warms your skin and the sweet scent of grass hits your nose. Suddenly, as if begging for your attention, a dragonfly whirs by. Its bold blue body glints playfully in the light. You continue walking as another dragonfly flits into view, this one a beautiful russet with flecks of orange. It hovers for the briefest of moments before zipping off into the distance, darting with the aerial precision of a fighter pilot. The buzz of activity is staggering and your eyes, so used to looking for the big things in life, begin to seek out these small intriguing animals. Suddenly two grows to four, four to eight, eight to twenty and suddenly you realize- the more you look, the more you see. This once quiet sunny trail is teeming with dragonflies and you are the sole audience for their aerial acrobatics show. You have become an observer, a monitor, and you’ve completed the first step to becoming a citizen scientist.

The Colorado Dragonfly Monitoring Project started in 2018 by Butterfly Pavilion research and conservation coordinator Katrina Loewy, was created to help monitor native and migratory populations of dragonflies found throughout the Colorado Front Range. The project monitors the number of dragonflies found along 0.5 mile stretches of trail, called transects. The same transect must be walked a minimum of six times from May to September to ensure enough data is collected. Now, imagine attempting to record observations in Westminster, in Broomfield, in Boulder, Jefferson County, Adams County, and so many other places, by yourself. Such a large task would be impossible for one person or team, or even one organization, to accomplish alone.

This is why we need you.

Citizen scientists are everyday citizens who help conservation organizations around the world collect vast amounts of data that can be used to help local governments make critical conservation decisions that protect entire ecosystems. A citizen scientist can be anyone, from any walk of life, interested in spending time outdoors and taking an active role in conservation. The only thing you need is a willingness to learn and the dedication to walk your trail. Every year, Butterfly Pavilion trains citizen scientists to monitor Colorado dragonflies they see on a trail of their choice. Those who join will learn how to collect data, how to identify dragonflies, and how that information can help local governments make important conservation decisions.

Why dragonflies?

Dragonflies are great indicators of the health of an ecosystem. Because they spend most of their life cycle in and around water, the presence or absence of dragonflies in an area can indicate the health of the water. Dragonflies are also sensitive to temperature and climate. Observing how their populations fluctuate and move each year can help us measure the impacts of climate change on Colorado ecosystems.

If you love the outdoors, care about the environment, and want to be part of a fun and engaging scientific community, join the Colorado Dragonfly Monitoring Network for the upcoming 2019 season! Our training dates are found HERE on our website. No training is necessary, contact me at sstevens@butterflies.org or call 720.375.9983 for more information and to sign up for a training day!

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