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The objective of this report is to qualitatively evaluate the concept, results, and operation of the Cricket Crawl event that occurred on September 12, 2009 throughout the Greater New York City Region, U.S.A.
In broad terms the Cricket Crawl was a melded project designed to collect scientifically defensible data on cricket and katydids, involve the public in the data collection, excite and inform the public about crickets and katydids within urban environments and explicitly weave art, literature, publicity, and a bit of metaphysics into the process. The design, techniques, coverage, maps, results, expeditions, blogs, media coverage, and events of all kinds are presented at the Cricket Crawl Web site at: www.discoverlife.org/cricket.
Summary of the Results
The original date of the survey was September 11 2009, however, rain, cold temperatures, and wind resulted in shifting the date to the planned rain date of September 12 2009. While temperatures hovered in the 70’s at night and there were spotty light showers, no significant rain occurred. Nearly 400 sites were surveyed during the counting period (which included a short period after the initial count). About 350 of those sites were surveyed during the night of September 12th, with another 50 or so accomplished between September 12 and mid-October when the crickets and katydids disappeared. Approximately 300 people were involved but no effort was made to detail the names of those who counted or how many were in each counting party. Our impression from correspondence was that many people went out in small groups of family and friends, but that there were a fair number of people who surveyed alone. All 7 target species were detected with the most common being the Fall Field Cricket, Jumping Bush Cricket, and Greater Anglewing. Common True Katydid, Oblong-winged Katydid, Lesser Anglewing, and Fork-tailed Katydid were also detected but at lower rates. A more detailed report on the count data including a section that compares results within parks to results outside of parks will be posted on the website (www.discoverlife.org/cricket).
Each count and each observer carries the implicit assumption that they are perfect recorders; all crickets and katydids of the target species are detected and recorded accurately and none of the non-target species are mistaken for the target ones. This, unfortunately, is never the case; misidentifications occur, hearing is less than perfect, and the data will be corrupted by such influences. The difficulty with many surveys, Cricket Crawl too, is that there is no independent means of identifying what counts are corrupted and in which way. Observers are not tested for hearing or for identification skills. Thus we have only indirect assessments. In Cricket Crawl, several factors contribute towards increased reliability: people had access to online ID sound files, which they could listen to online or could download them to their iPods. They often worked in groups where questions, when they arose, could often be answered within the group. The list of species to detect was short, and fortunately, cricket calls vary in their presentation only to a small degree, unlike bird calls. In a few cases we had independent assessments of the species observers were hearing from recordings they made or other observers and these all turned out to be correct. Finally, the maps of the results largely conformed to what experienced othopterists would have expected in terms of commonness and distributions. On the other hand, there were a number of non-target species that potentially were confusing to the listeners. Species such as Snowy Tree Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni) were common and were likely at times confused with the Jumping Bush Cricket (Orocharis saltator). The Fork-tailed Bush Katydid (Scudderia furcata) could have been confused with single tic calls of the Greater Anglewing (Microcentrum rhombifolium) and in one instance we are reasonably certain that a Treetop Bush Katydid (Scudderia fasciata) was mistaken for a Fork-tailed Bush Katydid. We were unaware at the beginning of the survey that Treetop Bush Katydids could be in the area but one group at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx noted a Fork-tailed at the top of a Spruce which would have clearly indicated a Treetop Bush Katydid.
Recommendations: The development of I-phone apps (currently a volunteer is working on one) and emphasizing the need for memorizing the calls along with going out and listening prior to the count will continue to be helpful. This can be reinforced in email correspondence before the count. We are working on developing online quizzes that observers can take prior to the count to test their ability to identify the calls. This will both help observers learn their calls and could be used as a reportable test as to an observer’s effectiveness. Field trips by experts are also useful but likely many people would not be interested or able to make one prior to the count. Important or odd findings can be verified by known observers. In the New York City area it might be useful to add the Snowy Tree Cricket to the list of counted species. In other regions of the North American the list would shift to accommodate different highly detectable species being present. Several people mentioned that even though other species were not counted it would be useful to at least have some idea about the other calling species, both from the perspective that they would be personally interested and that it would help bracket what the target species sounds were.
The survey dates for this survey were September 11 with a rain date of the 12th. In this case the weather on the 11th was cold, windy, and rainy all factors that decrease the number of crickets and katydids calling as well as the participants ability to hear them and desire to conduct the survey. Fortunately the 12th was a bit kinder and, while there was some light rain and mist, conditions were good for the survey. A survey date in late August would have been perhaps optimal in that all the species would have been out and calling and weather conditions were more likely to be appropriate (i.e., warm). However, schedules, holidays, and school prevented us from running the survey any earlier.
Recommendations: When choosing a date to run a survey, cold weather is the primary issue affecting counts (other than being within the calling season to begin with). The survey is probably best run from mid-to late August in the North and can run a bit later in the season in the South. It’s possible that surveys in South Florida should use a different survey window given that conditions down there are warmer throughout the winter. Rain dates are an absolute necessity. We recommend that the coordinators alert participants and the media throughout the preceding days in their correspondence of the possibility of a rain date and that you have an effective email system (we had a separate yahoo account and address book) for the project.
The art aspects of the event are more amenable to a qualitative review than to a quantitative analysis. Prior to, during, and after the count, artists were invited to submit works relating to crickets and katydids. Submissions were linked to or placed on the Cricket Crawl server. Cricket poetry culled from various sources, including the internet, was also interlaced throughout the web pages and in the communications with the participants. The calls for artwork were sent primarily via the email list of a participating community-based art gallery. Calls were not put out through channels specifically targeting artists. The request was open-ended, simply inviting submissions of work related to crickets and katydids in order to post submissions on the Cricket Crawl website. While the response was limited in terms of quantity of work submitted, the work itself ranged widely across art disciplines, including dance, sound art, visual art, poetry and music and presented a compelling exploration of conceptual, visceral, emotional and sensory responses to our subjects. The art campaign may have benefited from a more conceptualized or targeted focus. In addition, a broader call for art would have undoubtedly generated more submissions, allowing us to exhibit a wider range of art. An undertaking of this nature is somewhat dependent on the recruiting and organization of a larger body of volunteers. In addition, the more lead time provided, the more likelihood there is of art being created expressly for the occasion. We feel that the Cricket Crawl’s art component was appreciated, added to the impact of the survey and satisfied its objective of enlarging the public’s experience of, relationship to and concern for crickets and katydids. Cricket Crawl participants and web-visitors seemed to enjoy the incorporation of poetry, literature, and art related to crickets and katydids. Like nature, art opens people up to experience and enlarges understanding. Therefore we feel that having a survey event that both quantifies crickets and katydids and celebrates them is a valid and valuable approach albeit one that needs further development.
Recommendations: The stated purpose of including art in the Cricket Crawl survey process should include the goal of building community and creating a “Cricket Crawl Culture” that can help expand the number of participants in the annual count. Art enlivens and including art in a scientific endeavor attracts new interest and builds community. This goal adds a new dimension to the equally vital objective of educating and exciting the public about the Cricket Crawl. Preparation for the art component requires advance planning and volunteers to ensure that calls for art are widely distributed and that submissions are responded to and satisfactory arrangements made with individual artists. Early notification also would allow artists to develop work specifically for the Cricket Crawl. In addition, now that the first Cricket Crawl has occurred and a website of data, photos, recordings and documentation has been formed, artists can build off the Cricket Crawl experience in devising new works. This process can continue indefinitely and help to build a sense of involvement in and anticipation of the annual Cricket Crawl count. Organizers should seek to develop art events including exhibits and performances prior to, on the night of and/or after the Cricket Crawl that would increase the visibility of the Crawl and build a cross-disciplinary “Cricket Crawl Culture” that could grow larger and richer from year to year. Observer pictures, stories, poetry and other submissions provided by surveyors during and after their expeditions should continue to exist as an ongoing website “gallery” of cricket and katydid experiences. This site can continue to grow as a participatory record for any interested persons to send in their own cricket/katydid observations, art, etc on an ongoing basis, with only minimal editing or selection. This project too would help build “Cricket Crawl Culture” and expand the number of counters on survey nights.
Cell Phones and Technology Angles
Our impression was that the use of cell phones in this survey was attractive to participants and lent to the almost complete and immediate submission of data. Traditional surveys use paper and pencil to record notes on a form and then participants have to mail, fax, or enter their data into a website to submit their results. Those processes often delayed the final reporting of results by weeks if not months and also led to some participants collecting the data but not submitting or having to be harassed to turn in their results. Cell phones have the advantage of zero need for transcribing data from one media to another by the participant. In this survey participants could either phone a number or leave a message (this message was converted automatically to an .mp3 file), or they could email the data from their smart phones. In both cases these message went to a drop.io box where the files could be manipulated and sent out to other computers. .mp3 files were downloaded from the drop.io box and uploaded onto a Discoverlife server (http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20p?see=I_CC) where they were associated with a form that allowed information about who, what, where, and species information to be recorded. Once that information was recorded it was automatically mapped on the web site global mapper (http://pick18.pick.uga.edu/cricket/mapping.html) and viewable by the public. A dataset was produced at the same time (http://www.discoverlife.org/export/I_CC.txt).
The primary problem with drop.io was that it was formatted such that it was not possible to determine who had sent in the email as no return email address was provided, which led to confusion in the Cricket Crawl headquarters. We also experienced some technological glitches the night of the event. While our computer procedures were developed on computers at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, there were a number of systems and software that did not immediately work with the American Museum’s Mac set up.
Recommendations: Cell phones still make a lot of sense to use. Yet, since not everyone has a phone capable of emailing it makes sense to continue to use the drop.io feature to leave messages and data. However, the drop.io email feature should not be used and instead a regular Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail account used.
Most individuals participating gave only a description or address of their locations and in most cases we were able to easily track down those locations. Exceptions were when we only received the street name but also needed the town and/or borough name to pinpoint the location. A number of participants gave us gps information, but in several instances it was either wrong or the format wasn’t presented correctly; ending up with a number of locations errors. Recommendations: Emphasize the need to send in Latitude-Longitude information using a decimal degree format or at least let us know explicitly what format the coordinates are in. The use of pre-determined sampling points would also remove most of this problem and greatly speed up the entry of the data during the night’s event. External Data Entry During the event we had a number of off-site people ready to transcribe data from the sound files and enter the called in counts onto online data forms. While we had their email addresses, we largely failed to use any of their talents the night of the count as we had a number of technological issues and were busy editing and entering data ourselves. However, in the days following the survey these folks did a wonderful job entering data and appeared to enjoy the process and participation in the event.
Recommendations: Prior to the event recruit off-line data entry folks and put all their emails into either a listserv or group email list. Then assign each off-line person a set of survey numbers for them to transcribe prior to the night of the event. Then on the night of the event, group emails can be sent out letting people know when data had been uploaded and made available for data entry. One person at headquarters would then be in charge of monitoring the group email account and would interact with the data entry people as questions arose.
Ten expeditions were mounted on the night of the count. Most, but not all, expeditions were associated at least obliquely with an institution of some kind, whether it was the Cub Scouts, the Smithsonian, or The New York Botanical Garden but a couple were simply groups of friends. The idea behind the expeditions was to highlight a group’s or an individual’s activities, give that group a forum for making observations and comments about what happened and the places they visited, personalize the event, provide a record of what happened by having the survey leaders work with a blogger, and highlight a particular site or region of the City to the general public and other followers of the event action. Because progress could be followed in near real time through the actions of the blogger that tracked each expedition, people not associated with the count could also participate vicariously. In general, even though the expedition concept wasn’t really developed until the last 2 weeks prior to the event they were a very successful part of the overall Cricket Crawl. Likely because there was teamwork, visibility, and close work with an offsite blogger these groups visited quite a number of localities and provided a strong record of the night’s actions. We think that because the concept was new, no one really had any notion of how it was “supposed” to work, and since the idea was largely transmitted via email this created some degree of unevenness in how the teams worked with bloggers and visa-versa. In all, the expedition aspect was a success and worth repeating and embellishing upon.
Recommendations: Next time the roles and responsibilities of the teams and bloggers should be more explicitly laid out for everyone via a document as people just had too many questions to be covered in a simple e-mail. Tightly knit communication between the blogger and the blogger’s team seems important as well as the blogger becoming part of the story by interpreting the messages, interpreting what the team was or was not doing, and communicating with team members via cell phone. The most successful blogger/expedition pairs were highly interactive, informal, and usually adding pictures and links afterwards (or during if the team could send pictures digitally).
The Choice of Where to do a Count
For practical purposes in NYC Cricket Crawl there were no limitations given as to where participants could count. Consequently, it is clear from the maps that there were places that were missed and other places where the count density was high. In many ways it was remarkable how diffused coverage was and much of the city was represented by some moderate density of survey points.
An alternative approach would have been to create a random or systematic set of survey points and have people sign up for specific localities. Several participants mentioned that they would have liked this as in that way they would know that they were not duplicating effort. It also would have evened out coverage and created a more statistically repeatable, systematic survey throughout the city. On the negative side of things it would have created more work for the organizers in that a map of points would need to be created beforehand and someone would have to be on top of survey point assignments on a daily basis prior to the count. Alternatively, both types of surveys could be done, assignments to points could be made and expeditions and individuals could also be allowed to count where they wished without interfering with the nice statistical properties of the gridded system.
Recommendations: We think that the statistical usefulness of a grid of points outweighs the negatives of increased work for the coordination team. Grids can be created in any GIS system or the poor man’s approach could be implemented where existing printed maps are the basis for developing survey locations and a grid created by hand using either the existing grid of a published map or an alternative grid created with a ruler. The size and shape of the grid can vary to suit the needs of the coordinators and the number of participants who may participate. A distance of greater than 200m between points will keep the possibility of double counting crickets and katydid (particularly the loud Common True Katydids) to a minimum.
Participants who wanted to sign up to take part in the count were asked to send a message to a Yahoo account that was created for the project. This worked well and by using the address/contact features of the account it was possible to use the account as a means of broadcasting updates/newsletters to all the participants without a lot of extra work.
Recommendations: If assignments to specific points are going to be incorporated into the project then an Excel spreadsheet or something similar should be used to track those assignments.
Replication and Expansion
Surprisingly, and strikingly, works of any kind that document the occurrence and status of insects in North America are generally lacking. In the New York City area the only reference to the population status of any cricket or katydid, that we are aware of, was the work approximately 100 years ago by the amateur entomologist William T. Davis from Staten Island. The fact that in one of the wealthiest countries, in one of the largest metropolitan areas, we know essentially nothing about the status of species that are heard by all New Yorkers every year seems a poor reflection on our overall state of understanding about/of U.S. animal populations, let alone any significant capacity to track, model, and predict upcoming changes wrought by climate change. A sad business.
It seems very worthwhile to document even the simplest of things such as where crickets and katydids live, so that in the future, we can identify how ranges expand and contract. The question is how. The current Cricket Crawl model has lots of promise. People were excited and engaged, they had the ability to identify the species, were willing to collect and report their survey results, the survey itself generated a lot of attention, and coordinating the survey was not difficult. Below are our overall recommendations for a survey of crickets and katydids.
1. Sample using a grid, with sample points located at grid intersections.
2. Let observers choose what grid points they survey.
3. Include art, events, poetry, literature, field trips and personal interactions throughout the process to better integrate the aspects of good scientific collection of data with the engagement and enjoyment of nature for its and our own sakes.
4. Use cell phones and email to record the data.
5. Promote expeditions and a one-day big count event (with rain dates) to provide a focus and a goal for participants.
6. Use blogs, real time reporting, and same-night data entry to provide fast feedback and results to keep participants and the public engaged.
7. Invite the media along on the event.
8. Provide bloggers and expedition folks with explicit instructions and options for how they set up their expeditions.
9. Test all aspects of data entry, computer linkages, file transfers, and mapping before the night of the event on the computers that will be used during the event.
Feel free to contact Sam Droege at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to start a survey in your area and he will help you out. All materials on the Cricket Crawl website are available for your use. No need to ask for permission just take them and alter them as you see fit.