Bridging the gap: Six tools to help you become a citizen scientist and contribute to scientific research

Aloaceae monocot or spiral aloe plant photographed on Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

Bridging the gap: Six tools to help you become a citizen scientist and contribute to scientific research

"Everybody starts out as a scientist. Every child has the scientist's sense of wonder and awe." — Carl Sagan  

Science can often feel like an exclusive club, with only a select few donning lab coats and working in research labs. However, the truth is that, regardless of age or degree, everyone has the potential to contribute to scientific research. 

Citizen science is the practice of engaging the general public in scientific research projects. It allows people from all walks of life to participate in data collection, analysis, and even the design of experiments. 

Through citizen science, everyone can help find solutions to some of the world's greatest challenges — including climate change and biodiversity loss.

Below are six user-friendly and accessible tools that can help you become a citizen scientist, regardless of your background or level of scientific knowledge. 

Share your observations in nature

One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals in your environment and connects to a community of over a million scientists and naturalists.

What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations on the app or website, you can help create research-quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.

Record morning bird songs

Launched in 2020, the Dawn Chorus app encourages people around the world to listen to the birds in their immediate environment in the early morning hours, record the bird songs with their smartphones and upload them to an online database.

The database of collective information submitted by participants helps researchers track developments in species diversity, habitats, and the effects of noise pollution through comparative analyses of annual data. It is also available for anyone to listen to through a digital interactive sound map, where visitors can discover the myriad of bird songs worldwide.

Image credit: Nicolas Gamboa, Creative Commons

Observe and share climate changes in your community

The small changes people see in their backyards, neighborhoods, and towns are essential to understanding how weather patterns and the changing climate affects local communities,

Through the ISeeChange website, users combine detailed stories and photos to record the changes they observe in their environment and how it impacts them. This information can help local organizations, engineers, and city planners advocate for solutions to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Snap a picture of a squirrel

Since 1997, Project Squirrel has been collecting data on squirrel populations and their habitats in North America. During this time, thousands of people participated!

It doesn't matter where you live — in the city, suburbs, or country — everyone is encouraged to become a 'squirrel monitor' and help collect data on urban biodiversity. Simply snap a picture of a local squirrel and provide information about when and where it was taken.

Help monitor light pollution

Globe at Night is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impacts of light pollution. Anyone is invited to measure and submit their night sky brightness.

In 2022, over 19,000 observations were made, and the organization hopes to hit 20,000 data points in 2023.

Advance the conservation of butterflies

More than 80% of land plants are pollinated by animals such as butterflies. Yet, butterfly populations are rapidly decreasing due to pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change.

From the rarest butterflies to the most common, recording any sightings can help advance our collective knowledge and contribute to their conservation. eButterfly is a real-time, online checklist and photo storage program that collects data on butterfly abundance and distribution. All you have to do is report butterfly sightings!

These six tools can help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the general public, making it easier for anyone to collect and analyze data, identify patterns, and make discoveries that advance the world’s collective knowledge.

By becoming a citizen scientist and participating in community projects, monitoring local wildlife, or simply reporting sightings, you can make valuable contributions to critical conservation efforts.

Everyone can be part of the solution! 

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