Abstract for the North American Bluebird Society, September, 2007

Discover Life and help study
the impact of environmental changes
in North America

John Pickering
University of Georgia

Sialia mexicana
Photograph by John Ascher
Sialia mexicana Swainson, 1832
Western Bluebird

Updated: 16 September, 2007

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Understanding and managing the impact of invasive species, weather, fire, pollution, and other environmental changes on biological systems is a mammoth task. It is impossible to conduct randomized, replicated experiments to study the impact of droughts, heat waves, and other massive perturbations on the abundance and distribution of populations between and within ecological communities. Fortunately, because of recent advances in technology and statistics, it is now feasible to collect and integrate information from a large number of study sites, tease out the response of populations to natural events, and gain understanding into their environmental requirements and interactions.

Discover Life's research center (http://www.discoverlife.org/research) and its partners are establishing teams of scientists, students, and volunteers to study the impact of weather and other factors on a diverse array of species. These teams will use simple on-line identification guides, databases tools, and standard research protocols to gather and share information from a potentially vast array of study sites around the globe. In 2008, we propose to start a large-scale, long-term scientific study of U.S. National Parks and other areas in North America. We invite the North American Bluebird Society and its members join this endeavor.

In 2008, our objectives are to develop research protocols and train the first community-based research teams. We propose to field research teams that will refine and test research protocols to study ants, bees, birds, butterflies, caterpillars, dragonflies, dung beetles, ferns, goldenrods, ladybugs, lichens, liverworts, milkweeds, mushrooms, orchids, salamanders, slime molds, snails, trees, vines, wildflowers and a few yet-to-be-determined groups. Each research team will contain at least one professional scientist, a K-12th grade teacher, a graduate student, an undergraduate, a high school student, naturalist with expertise in the study group, and a park interpreter. After protocols are ready, the research teams will help train community-based research teams that will collect and share data from multiple study sites.

During the first field season, each research team will build an on-line local identification guide to their group that is specific to their region. Our goal is that each team test and refine its guide so that elementary school children, their parents, and other general park visitors will be able to identify species correctly after a training session that teaches them the identification characters and how to use the web. We will use digital photography and other means to assure that reported observations are high quality and scientifically valuable. For a few groups, such as bees, it is often too difficult for non-experts to identify specimens correctly. In such cases, the team's research protocol will leave identification of difficult species to experts. Non-experts will participate in collecting, photography, mapping, rearing, preparing specimens, or other aspects of the research.

If you wish to get involved, please email dl@discoverlife.org or call 706-542-6676.

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