Citizen Scientists have helped to answer serious scientific questions, provide vital data to the scientific community, and have discovered thousands of species. I already wrote how high school students got engaged in citizen science projects that used DNA Barcoding, and there have been several bioblitzes that had a barcoding component.
The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded $250,000 to the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, the National Park Service, and the Schoodic Education and Research Center Institute for a new project that will involve visitors to the Acadia National Park in hands-on scientific research.
The project, called "Pathway to BioTrails," will involve members of the public in monitoring animal and plant species in Acadia National Park and Frenchman Bay using DNA Barcoding. Currently many citizen science projects spend more time on species identification and less on the actual scientific and educational goals of the project. The idea is to validate tentative identifications made by citizen scientists using DNA Barcodes and thereby increasing both the scientific and educational value of a project.
BioTrails will offer a range of citizen science projects organized around hiking, cycling and sea-kayaking trails to people who visit Acadia National Park. The trails will serve as consistent observation points where specimens and other data can be collected. Research scientists will use this information to address important ecological research questions, such as the relationship between climate change and changes in biodiversity.
The two-year initial project will feature four, five-day citizen science events – two in 2013 and two in 2014 – that will help build and use DNA Barcode 'libraries' for a selection of Acadia's invertebrate animal species. Volunteers for each of the citizen science events will be recruited through education and outreach channels already established by the participating institutions. Volunteers will also be recruited online through a website that connects educators and students to researchers through citizen science projects.
The principal investigator on the project, Karen James, hopes that the BioTrails concept, once tested in Acadia National Park, can be expanded to other national parks and long-distance trails. "A network of local, regional and national BioTrails programs, helping citizen scientists contribute to ecological questions of national and international importance," said James, "could aid in monitoring and managing wildlife in a rapidly changing world."
Congratulations to Karen and her team!