The Polistes Foundation

Our mission is to assemble and share knowledge about nature
in order to improve education, health, agriculture, economic development,
and conservation throughout the world.

Community aided research and monitoring
Phase I -- Southern Appalachian invasive species

John Pickering & Elizabeth L. Skillen
The University of Georgia, Athens

Proposal with SAIN to NBII

Draft, 20 February, 2003 -- Please do not cite.

For the first time in history, empowered by Web-based technology, we can work together on a global scale to study our natural world. We can collect and disseminate the biological knowledge that society needs to reduce human disease, increase agricultural production, control destructive invasive species, protect endangered ones, and enjoy rather than struggle with nature. Here we propose to implement and evaluate new technology that allows teachers, students, and community groups to learn about science, participate in discovery, collect valuable data, and help their local land managers.

Discover Life showcases state-of-the-art technical solutions. Its simple interface and powerful tools enable 4th grade and older users to (1) identify species, (2) report population distribution, abundance, and other findings, and (3) make essential biological information accessible to everyone in real time. Discover Life's IDnature Guides let non-experts identify species, map and report their observations, and access and assemble information from across the Web. Its Global Map Browser, developed in partnership with, is a simple but sophisticated way to build and see world maps of plant and animal distributions. These maps interact with information in huge databases, such as the Missouri Botanical Garden's, and with reports submitted via the Web by students, citizens, and professional biologists alike.

Here we propose to develop and evaluate a pilot program that enables schools and community groups to learn to use these tools and participate in scientific research and monitoring. In Phase I, we will focus on monitoring invasive species in the Southern Appalachians. The proposed work includes: (1) developing IDnature guides for invasive species in the Southern Appalachians, (2) writing research protocols and curricula appropriate for participating students and citizen scientists, (3) training teachers and other community leaders how to direct research, (4) establishing study sites in which schools and community groups will conduct research, (5) create means to check, evaluate and quality control the data collected, and (6) evaluate the learning experience and educational benefits of participants.

In later phases, based on what we learn in Phase I, we intend to apply the technology to other biological problems and extend its use around the world. For our 10-year goals, please see The Polistes Foundation's Business Plan.

Early detection and mapping of unwanted invasive species is critical to helping in their control. We will train participants to identify and map species in their school yards and local communities. Invasive species records will be sent as areas of concern for land managers thus, contributing data on distributions of these unwanted invaders. We will begin with terrestrial plants and move to aquatic organisms in subsequent years.

If successful, we will continue expansion of monitoring to enable users to report bees, birds, butterflies, caterpillars, trees, and wildflowers. As diversity continues to disappear before our eyes and without out our knowledge, we must involve as many people as possible in alerting scientists to the approaching invaders. The Polistes Foundation has Web-based tools to help achieve this goal.

Critical to citizen monitoring programs are checks on data quality. During Phase I we plan to establish testing and recording protocols to assess data quality. We have on staff a PhD Ecologist that can train citizens and school kids in using the Web tools and design testing protocols for assessing data quality. We plan to initially focus on invasive terrestrial plants for ease in identification. The dual benefit of this project as an educational and management tool cannot be understated. Stewardship of our natural resources begins with understanding the complexity of our natural world. At The Polistes Foundation we have the tools to make the natural world more accessible.

  • The Polistes Foundation
  • Southern Appalachian Information Node (SAIN)


  • Balsam Mountain Trust
  • Athens-Clarke County Schools
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park's All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory
  • Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
  • Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Program
  • Sun Microsystems
  • US Forest Service in Georgia


  • Balsam Mountain Trust
    The Balsam Mountain trust is a non-profit organization working with the Balsam Mountain Preserve on 4,000 acres in Jackson County North Carolina. The trust has installed water quality monitoring stations across the Preserve and worked with local universities to conduct surveys of local flora and fauna. A Nature Center is under development that will provide a central location for further training and educating the local community about better ways to help protect the Preserve. Through this proposal, we will work with the Balsam Mountain Trust in providing the tools to accomplish their goals of citizen monitoring of the Preserve. Specifically, in Phase I we will work with Michael Skinner, the Chief Naturalist at the Preserve, to implement the protocols for monitoring invasive species. We will provide training on the IDNature Guides and Global Web Browser as well as test protocols for maintaining data quality. We can do this by duplicating data collection of monitoring sites by our staff Ecologist and examine the differences in data collection. This partnership will be key to developing protocols to expanding monitoring in subsequent years. Further, our partnership with this community group will be a valuable link to fostering citizen science. The Balsam Mountain Trust endorses the goals of this proposal and has committed $5,000 cash along with $14,000 in-kind services. They may also be able to provide computer equipment for the project as well.
  • Athens-Clarke County Schools
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park's All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory
  • Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
  • Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Program
  • Sun Microsystems
    Sun Microcsystems has agreed to donate $200,000 in hardware to support the efforts of Discover Life. This equipment will provide hardware for support of existing software, Web serving and data storage, and will be available for use during the proposed project.
  • US Forest Service in Georgia

Planned Project Duration
This is phase I of efforts to implement citizen research monitoring protocols and is expected to continue for five years.

How does this project relate to the overall node mission and objectives?

Identifying and mapping invasive species is essential in developing conservation strateties to protect native species. By involving community and school groups and presenting these data on the Web, the current project meets multiple objectives of SAIN's mission. We plan to use technology that will educated individuals on invasive species of concern while providing vital information to track the spread of these exotic invaders.

Annual Budget
Post Doc
$ 44,000
Data management
$ 14,000
Mapping services
$ 14,000
System Support
$ 6,000
Data entry Hourly students $ 20,000
Teachers Summer stipends $ 20,000
Graduate Student $ 15,000
Equipment GPS & cameras $ 5,000
$ 5,000
$ 3,000
Overhead @ 5% $ 7,300
Balsam Mountain Trust Match
-$ 5,000
Grand Total

Funding Sources


  1. Web-based data reporting
    The proposed study is a pilot to train community and school groups to do biodiversity research. In Phase I of the project we will focus on monitoring terrestrial invasive species. Our state-of-the-art Web-based reporting system allows public involvement with data collection and identification. To better understand the magnitude of biological diversity and complexity we must involve local communities. Through our technology The Polistes Foundation can enable interested parties to become active participants in the stewardship of local natural resources. We have developed IDnature Guides that enable users to identify species and report observations. Furthermore, through our partnership with, we have developed the Global Map Browser that allows users to build and display world maps, then overlay data that they collect in their own communities. We propose a partnership with SAIN in collecting regional biodiversity data by enlisting the help of local communities and schools. Specifically, we propose to develop a Web-based reporting system for monitoring invasive species in the Southern Appalachians.

  2. Protocol & curricula development
    As part of The Polistes Foundation's mission to encourage nature based learning and discovery, we plan to work with one highschool and one elementary school teacher to develop hands on science curricula. We plan to focus on projects currently involved with SAIN in documenting the status of invasive species. Through our Web-based tools, scientific expertise and experience working with teachers, we can involve communities and schools in biodiversity research. We have been developing classroom activities with the help of local teachers since our inception. For examples of our hands-on curricula please see, Training Guides & Protocols, Explore Your School Yard.

  3. Training
    Involving community groups and students will require training by our highly skilled staff. We propose to have a training session at Tremont in GSMNP so that participants can master the Web-tools and get and overview of the project's mission. Our curriculum developers will work with the teachers on developing hands-on science curricula and provide support in classroom activities.

  4. Establish study sites
    Study sites will be chosen by SAIN and will also include one of our partners, Balsam Mountain Trust. Potential participants might include two Invasive species monitoring sites, one elementary school and one high school.

  5. Evaluate data quality
    Critical to citizen monitoring programs are checks on data quality. During Phase I we plan to establish testing and recording protocols to assess data quality. Specifically, we will have trained staff members collect data in areas where citizens and school groups have previously surveyed. Further, we can have multiple data collection by participants to compare data quality between groups as well. Thus, we can establish a baseline of data quality between groups and between experts and non-experts. This approach will provide crucial information for utilizing citizen data.

  6. Evaluation
    To evaluate our progress, we will have on-staff, a PhD ecologist and MS graduate student to work with community groups and guide the content of school curricula. Database management will be under the guidance of a 25 year veteran of computer programming. We have on-staff a professional evaluator to monitor our progress.


  1. Create IDnature Guides for critical invasive species of the Southeast including the European Gypsy Moth, Balsam Woolly Adelgid and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Focal invasive species will be identified from lists complied at Discover Life's invasives link. This work will expand existing guides of common North American butterflies, moths, bumblebees, catepillars, and wildflowers.

  2. Develop highschool and middle school biodiversity curricula that include hands-on scientific discovery. This work will incorporate our previous experience of working with teachers in Athens-Clarke County and the Explore Your School Yard program.

  3. Maps of proposed study sites indicating presence of critical invasive species accessible via the Global Map Browser.

Delivery Date

  • July 1, 2004 - Phase I Invasive Species

Discover Life | All Living Things | IDnature guides | The Polistes Foundation | Proposals | SAIN, 2003