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Topic: Flora & Fauna     Department: Sidebar

Citizen scientists gather data on wildlife

Infographic/Photo Essay - September 05, 2011 by Jean Palumbo

The wildlife species about which we have little or no information far outnumber those that are thoroughly studied and documented. Basic population trends are missing for even some of the best-known species, such as the Mexican spotted owl and the northern leopard frog. Better coordination between state and federal agencies could ensure that researchers collect enough important data on a few species rather than a lot of scattered data on many species. But the biggest challenge to adequate monitoring is lack of funding — and that’s where citizen science comes in.

These efforts train volunteers to go out in the field and collect accurate data on wildlife. The programs are generally inexpensive, gather a lot of information by involving large numbers of people, and foster a sense of stewardship. In the past, most citizen science efforts focused on the more charismatic species, especially birds. Now, more and more researchers are realizing the value of having dedicated — and inexpensive — help with data collecting. Such volunteer-manned projects track a wide range of wildlife species, as shown in the following table.

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