The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 41

"By actively engaging
people, scientists can
raise public awareness and
get people excited about
research." -Michelle Prysby

ABOVE:
Roanoke River Project
volunteers count and sort
macroinvertebrates to determine
the health of the section of the
stream they are monitoring.
COURTESY OF ROANOKE'S STORMWATER DIVISION

INSET:
Today's citizen scientists
typically take part in large-scale
studies, designed by researchers
to count species, gather data
on soil or water, and document
changes in the natural world
over time.

TheRoanoker.com

There are challenges, to be
sure: designing a project where
citizens can meaningfully be
involved; providing necessary
training for citizen scientists;
understanding the limits and
potential biases of the data
collected; and gathering needed
funding for projects. "Working
with volunteers is not free,"
Prysby reminds.
But the biggest reason why
citizen science is on the rise is
because it works.
"By actively engaging people,
scientists can raise public
awareness and get people excited
about research," Prysby says.

How to be a citizen scientist
In 2010, a Virginia Master
Naturalist chapter opened in
Roanoke and Sharon Vest was one
of the first to sign up for training.
Over the years, Vest has
searched for snails and millipedes
in forest leaf litter, collected seeds
of native plants along the Blue
Ridge Parkway, sent mason bee
boxes to the University of Virginia,
identified backyard birds at her
feeder, catalogued arrowheads and
counted wild turkeys.
For the last several years,
especially after she retired in
2013, she's logged around 100
hours a year as a certified master
naturalist- most of them for
citizen science projects.
"I'm learning something new
and helping the environment," she
explains. "I'm doing something I
like while helping other citizens of
Virginia."
Becoming a master naturalist is
hardly the only way to participate
in a citizen science project. Often
museums such as the Virginia
Tech Museum of Geosciences
or Virginia Museum of Natural

History put volunteers to work
on citizen science projects. Many
community groups such as the
Nature Conservancy or the
Appalachian Mountain Club can
connect people with citizen science
work.
The easiest way to become a
citizen scientist, though, is to log
on to a website or download an
app, such as iNaturalist, eBird,
Zooniverse or Scistarter.org.
In those online communities,
participants can select projects
that interest them. Some are
more demanding than others. On
iNaturalist, people can contribute
simply by taking photographs
of plants or bugs or birds they
encounter during walks in their
neighborhoods.
While some citizen science
work has been put on hold during
2020's Stay at Home orders (The
Roanoke River Project's volunteers
did not monitor streams this
spring), other research has provided
a means for those stuck at home
to contribute to science from their
backyards.
Projects such as FeederWatch,
mPING or The Lost Ladybug
Project encourage everyone to
become connected to nature
nearby. Other work, such as
the Smithsonian Institution's
transcription project, Zooniverse's
Penguin Watch and NASA's Planet
Four, allow participants to travel the
world (or even galaxy) virtually, all
while helping advance research.
In fact, this type of computerbased work is some of the most
valuable right now. With the rise
of animal cams and weather cams
and other ways to collect massive
amounts of data, researchers need
humans willing to sift through the
growing backlog of information.
Which proves that truly anyone
can become a citizen scientist, says
Vest.
"There are so many ways to
do citizen science," she says. "No
matter what your interest, you're
going to find something." I

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

41


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The Roanoker - September/October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - September/October 2020

The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover1
The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover2
The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 3
The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 4
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The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover3
The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover4
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