This story has all the elements: a citizen scientist, a mobile phone, and the frankly astonishing complexity of Earth’s ecosystems. Our citizen scientist protagonist, C R Naik, sets a model for how to infuse biodiversity monitoring with vigilant attention. This kind of attention blends multiple senses and sets aside assumptions, letting us dig deeper into what’s really happening. This story inspires citizen science participants and scientists to turn our attention to this world with open ears and open minds. – AWA –

A coastal survey in western India has spawned the discovery of a new species hiding in plain sight. Tadpoles turning into frogs are nothing new, but when a bird is miraculously transformed into an amphibian – and a previously unknown one at that – it’s time to sit up and take notice. In a bizarre turn of events that gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘metamorphosis’, a frog whose call was initially mistaken for the more familiar sound made by a white-throated kingfisher has just been confirmed as a new species.

It was citizen science that first shed light on the true identity of the Karaavali skittering frog, named after the region where it was first recorded. In the local Kannada language widely spoken in the state of Karnataka, Karaavali is the name for India’s west coast. A local forester, C R Naik, was monitoring the biodiversity around his coastal village in order to document the bird, snake and frog species in the vicinity. Having realised that the kingfisher-like call was actually being emitted by a frog, he had the presence of mind to record it on his mobile phone. During subsequent fieldwork in the Western Ghats he played back the recording to a team of scientists, including several herpetologists, who naturally assumed that they were listening to a bird.

Photo credit: Karaavali skittering frog, by Naik C R

Source: A frog in kingfisher’s clothing

The impact of Crowdsourcing and citizen science activities on academia, businesses, governance and society has been enormous. This is more prevalent today with citizens and communities collaborating with organizations, businesses and authorities to contribute in a variety of manners, starting from mere data providers to being key stakeholders in various decision-making processes. The “Crowdsourcing for observations from Satellites” project is a recently concluded study supported by demonstration projects funded by European Space Agency (ESA). The objective of the project was to investigate the different facets of how crowdsourcing and citizen science impact upon the validation, use and enhancement of Observations from Satellites (OS) products and services. This paper presents our findings in a stakeholder analysis activity involving participants who are experts in crowdsourcing, citizen science for Earth Observations. The activity identified three critical areas that needs attention by the community as well as provides suggestions to potentially help in addressing some of the challenges identified.

Source: Remote Sensing | Free Full-Text | Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing for Earth Observations: An Analysis of Stakeholder Opinions on the Present and Future

Back in 2002, in his first year as a graduate student at Ohio State University, Joshua Pepper was sitting in his office one day when a professor walked by and asked what he was doing.

Nothing much, Pepper said.

Good, the professor replied. Then you’ll have time to work on my project.

Pepper, an astronomy student, was studying the giant black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The professor wanted to determine if an upcoming NASA mission could locate exoplanets—planets orbiting other stars. The professor was not his adviser, but Pepper saw no way to decline. What was supposed to be a three-month project became a one-year investigation. During that time, the planned NASA mission was scrapped, but Pepper made a more significant discovery: The search for planets beyond the solar system—and potentially for life as well—could be effectively conducted with modest equipment.

On a budget of under $50,000, [Pepper] built the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope, or KELT, and deployed it at a private observatory near Sonoita, Arizona, an hour southeast of Tucson. The KELT scientists collaborate with amateur astronomers and with researchers at other universities and large observatories. The KELT Follow-Up Network, with 40 members in 10 countries, is the largest of its kind in the world. It has confirmed the discovery of 13 exoplanets and is preparing to announce the discovery of four more.

Source: Crowdsourcing astronomers confirm existence of exoplanets | Lehigh University

This article shows how the power of today’s analysis techniques can be applied to data collected in citizen science projects from 150 years ago to show how climate change is impacting biodiversity. Indeed, citizen science is not a new methodology for collecting data! – LFF –

Historical species records offer an excellent opportunity to test the predictive ability of range forecasts under climate change, but researchers often consider that historical records are scarce and unreliable, besides the datasets collected by renowned naturalists. Here, we demonstrate the relevance of biodiversity records developed through citizen-science initiatives generated outside the natural sciences academia. We used a Spanish geographical dictionary from the mid-nineteenth century to compile over 10,000 freshwater fish records, including almost 4,000 brown trout (Salmo trutta) citations, and constructed a historical presence–absence dataset covering over 2,000 10 × 10 km cells, which is comparable to present-day data. There has been a clear reduction in trout range in the past 150 years, coinciding with a generalized warming. We show that current trout distribution can be accurately predicted based on historical records and past and present values of three air temperature variables. The models indicate a consistent decline of average suitability of around 25% between 1850s and 2000s, which is expected to surpass 40% by the 2050s. We stress the largely unexplored potential of historical species records from non-academic sources to open new pathways for long-term global change science.

Source: Historical citizen science to understand and predict climate-driven trout decline | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

A new study published in the journal Biological Conservation reaffirms the key role of citizen science for biodiversity conservation, encouraging further contributions along these lines. “Currently citizens provide a large amount of biodiversity data which are useful in science, but this information has an even greater potential for evaluating biodiversity on a regional and global scale,” explains Bernat Claramunt, researcher at CREAF (Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals) and the UAB and one of the authors of the study. In fact, over 50% of the data in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) already originates from citizen science.

Source: Citizen science emerges as a significant ally to biodiversity | CREAF

Editor’s Choice: This is a blog post from four years ago that makes an interesting claim that the relative lack of citizen science projects in Chemistry is related to the unwillingness of most researchers in that field to carry out “open data” practices. –LFF–


Diagnosing cancer often involves identifying potentially cancerous cells in images of large cell samples taken from tissue biopsies. ‘You don’t need to be a trained pathologist, or even know anything about cancer, to learn to distinguish tumours from normal cells,’ says Iain Foulkes, executive director of strategy and research funding at Cancer Research UK. ‘We developed the Cell Slider game with the help of Zooniverse, the company behind Galaxy Zoo, so volunteers could help us analyse our huge backlog of biopsies.’ Users are first taken through a tutorial to learn to distinguish the cells required, and regular users are monitored so more weight can be given to results from the most reliable players. And the game is proving popular, with the site attracting over 20,000 unique hits in the month following its launch on 24 October 2012.

Source: People power, feature article in Chemistry World


Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) scientists were among those taking part in the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco earlier this month. The December 11-17 gathering, which attracted some 24,000 geoscientists, offered an opportunity for HamSCI scientists to present Amateur Radio-based research, discuss possibilities for upcoming experiments, and network with members of the citizen science and space science communities. Two young university-affiliated radio amateurs — Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, a post-doctoral research associate at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and Virginia Tech (VT) undergraduate researcher Magda Moses, KM4EGE — offered poster presentations at the AGU meeting. Frissell said he feels the radio amateurs made a good impression.

“As I go to these meetings and tell different people about the HamSCI work, I find people that either want to contribute or that I think would have something important to say,” Frissell told ARRL. “Once I identify these people, I invite them to our HamSCI Google e-mail group, where we can discuss possible experiments or ways to use ham radio for science. We now have almost 60 scientists and ham radio operators in the group.”

Source: HamSCI Members Showcase Amateur Radio-Related Research at AGU Fall Meeting


Citizen-science programs have the potential to contribute to the management of invasive species, including Python molurus bivittatus (Burmese Python) in Florida. We characterized citizen-science—generated Burmese Python information from Everglades National Park (ENP) to explore how citizen science may be useful in this effort. As an initial step, we compiled and summarized records of Burmese Python observations and removals collected by both professional and citizen scientists in ENP during 2000–2014 and found many patterns of possible significance, including changes in annual observations and in demographic composition after a cold event. These patterns are difficult to confidently interpret because the records lack search-effort information, however, and differences among years may result from differences in search effort. We began collecting search-effort information in 2014 by leveraging an ongoing citizen-science program in ENP. Program participation was generally low, with most authorized participants in 2014 not searching for the snakes at all. We discuss the possible explanations for low participation, especially how the low likelihood of observing pythons weakens incentives to search. The monthly rate of Burmese Python observations for 2014 averaged ∼1 observation for every 8 h of searching, but during several months, the rate was 1 python per >40 h of searching. These low observation-rates are a natural outcome of the snakes’ low detectability— few Burmese Pythons are likely to be observed even if many are present. The general inaccessibility of the southern Florida landscape also severely limits the effectiveness of using visual searches to find and remove pythons for the purposes of population control. Instead, and despite the difficulties in incentivizing voluntary participation, the value of citizen-science efforts in the management of the Burmese Python population is in collecting search-effort information.

Source: Prospects and Limitations of Citizen Science in Invasive Species Management: A Case Study with Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park


Myriad Sensors launched a first of its kind Citizen Science experiment to test what happens to packages as they are shipped through the mail. The experiment will involve hundreds of packages and millions of data points as sensors travel to people around the globe. Data will include the temperature, humidity, pressure, and orientation of the package measured every 10 minutes during the journey. Analysis of the complex system for global shipping has never before been possible at this scale, with this many parameters, and with high accuracy measurements. The experiment could also provide key insights for fragile or sensitive shipments such as wine, food, medicine, musical instruments, and electronic equipment. The data will be open source, anonymous, and anyone in the world can participate.

Source: What happens to your mail? Myriad Sensors will ship thousands of sensors in global citizen science


Our bill on citizen science (that started with my briefing the awesome AAAS fellow Rose Mutiso in Sen Coons’ office in early 2014) was incorporated into the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (COMPETES) (see Sec 402), which is now on its way for signing by the President.

Section 402 makes clear that federal agencies may use crowdsourcing and voluntary, collaborative citizen science to advance their missions. This legislation will help agency staff get past the automatic ‘no’ of higher ups and general counsels who may be initially cautions of innovative new approaches.

Source: Competes Act Passes Senate, House, Supports Citizen Science