Planning Meeting -- 11-12 May, 2006, Omaha, Nebraska

Discover Life and help manage
our National Parks via citizen science

Planning meeting

Melanerpes formicivorus
Photograph by Tom Stephenson

Melanerpes formicivorus (Swainson, 1827)
Acorn woodpecker

Updated: 31 August, 2007

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Organizers: Mark DePoy, Buffalo National River, John Pickering, University of Georgia and The Polistes Foundation


Global climate change, invasive species, pollution, and fire threaten our National Parks and other natural areas.

Here we propose a large-scale scientific study to better understand and mitigate these threats. We will establish a network of citizen scientists to study and monitor important functional groups and indicator species.

We will focus the study in and around National Parks, because of their extensive geographic coverage, biological diversity, expertise in working with the public, and logistic support. We invite other organizations and individuals to join us and extend the study to sites outside of National Parks.

The website Discover Life and its partner organizations will provide the technology necessary for participants to identify specimens, process samples, report and edit findings, map and analyze results, and share information on-line in real time.

Participating teams of scientists will develop and test research protocols locally. They will then work with NPS interpreters to train teams of citizens to implement each protocol elsewhere. Successful protocols will provide policy makers and land managers with high-quality data that will help them make better decisions.

The protocols will also provide a basis for teaching scientific methods and critical thinking in schools, universities, and other venues. Combined with lesson plans, they should inspire students to be creative and develop their own ideas into independent research projects that further unravel nature's mysteries. Let's use exploration and discovery to counter the classroom tedium of the known world.

So that we can analyze trends and compare results at a continental scale, we will implement each protocol in a standard way across parks and other study sites. Each protocol will be straight forward, targeted at an age-appropriate level, and require only equipment that can be made readily available through parks, schools, universities, libraries, or other local organizations. We envision a range from simple to complex protocols that will allow everyone from grade schoolers on up to help collect the data we need. For example, "Learning lessons looking for ladybugs" is aimed at grade schoolers helping to monitor the spread and impact of non-native invasive ladybugs on rare native one. "Ant Hunt!" requires microscope skills and is more appropriate for older students.

We will expend considerable effort during the development, testing, and implementation of research protocols to assure that the data are sufficiently accurate and reliable to be of use to scientists, land managers, and policy makers. Our computer network will track the source of each datum, rank its reliability based on other evidence, and filter out or flag suspicious information. The protocols will require participants to confirm important observations by submitting digital photographs and attaching unique barcode labels, which we will provided via the web, to voucher specimens.

Because National Parks limit collecting and experiments through research permits, we will develop protocols that require minimum amounts of collecting and manipulation within National Parks. We will emphasize observation, photography, and low-impact measurements to study populations within parks. Whenever possible, we will restrict collecting and experiments to sites outside of parks and other protected areas.

In the first and second field season after funds become available for each scientific team, the team will develop and test their protocol in the Ozarks or another selected park. In the two years following the successful testing of a protocol, the team and NPS interpreters will implement it across participating parks in the Midwest and selected parks in other regions. After we incorporate feedback from these sites, we will implement the protocol throughout all parks and other sites who wish to participate. Thus, we anticipate our most successful protocols will form a national network by year-5.

The proposed network could become a foundation for the NPS's Centennial Initiative. Ultimately, we hope this model of using the web to coordinate scientists, educators, citizen scientists, and land managers will develop into a global network. If our dreams become reality, think "a million points of science" helping to better understand and manage our planet.

Rather than attempting to study all species, we will focus on critical groups of organism that will give the project the highest return. The following are potential groups that we might choose. Within these groups, we will choose subgroups that we expect to be both sensitive and insensitive to the potential threats. With butterflies, for example, we propose to compare changes in the abundance and distribution of widespread, common species, such as the Tiger Swallowtail, with rare species and locally endemic ones.

  • Insects
    • Ants
      -- Elmira College; Harvard University; Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
    • Bees
      -- American Museum of Natural History, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Center, University of Georgia, University of Kansas, University of New Mexico, USDA Bee Lab
    • Butterflies
      -- Big Sky Institute, Harvard University
    • Caterpillars
      -- Dave Wagner, University of Connecticut
    • Dragonflies and other aquatic insects
    • Dung beetles and allies
      -- Sasha Spector, American Museum of Natural History
      Mary Liz Jameson, University of Nebraska
    • Ladybugs
      -- Cornell University
  • Invasives
    -- Brown University, USGS-BRI
  • Land snails
    -- Gary Roesenberg, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
    John Slapcinsky, Florida Museum of Natural History
    Field Museum
  • Lichens
    -- Field Museum
  • Mushrooms
    -- Anne Pringle, Harvard University
  • Plants
    • Spurges -- Euphorbiaceae
      -- University of Michigan
    • Ferns
      -- George Yatskievych, Missouri Botanical Garden
    • Goldenrods
      -- Walt, Carson, University of Pittsburg
    • Milkweeds
      -- Western Kentucky University
    • Orchids
      -- Missouri Botanical Garden, Florida Museum of Natural History
    • Spring wildflowers
      -- Missouri Botanical Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden,
    • Solanaceae
      -- University of Utah
    • Tree diseases
      -- University of Tennessee
  • Slime molds
    -- Steve Stephenson, University of Arkansas

On May 11-12, 2007, we propose an initial planning meeting in Omaha. This meeting will be a brainstorming session between NPS employees, independent scientists, and other participants.

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Schedule -- 11-12 May, 2007, Omaha, Nebraska

The Midwest Regional Office of the National Park Service will host a planning meeting for approximately 20 NPS staff and 10 invited scientists and other interested parties. The goal of this meeting will be to present the project to the region, seek feedback, and brainstorm how to proceed.

10 May

  • 6:30PM -- Dinner with discussion among scientists and outside guests.
    [Assemble in at the LaQuinta Inn & Suites motel, Carter Lake, Iowa, 2+ miles from airport. A block of rooms have been reserved under "biodiversity" for $79/night for 10 and 11 May. Motel phone = 712-347-6595.]

11 May

  • 8:30AM -- Assembly, with coffee and refreshments, at NPS Midewest Regional Office
  • 9:00AM -- Welcome -- Steve Cinnamon / Ernie Quintana -- National Park Service
  • 9:10AM -- John Pickering -- Discover Life and University of Georgia
  • 9:50AM -- Discussion
  • 10:00AM -- Break 10:15 - 12:00 -- Scientific presentations
    Mike Irwin -- Schlinger Foundation -- "All-taxa inventories versus target-taxa-everywhere studies"
    Sam Droege -- USGS -- "Citizen science and data quality -- from birds, to frogs, to bees"
    John Losey -- Cornell University -- "Learning lessons looking for ladybugs"
    Albert Meier -- Western Kentucky University -- "Plant communities"
    Dan Kjar -- Elmira College -- "Monitoring the spread and impact of invasive ants"
    Walt Carson -- University of Pittsburg -- "A model plant-insect system -- goldenrods"
    Mark DePoy -- NPS -- "Tree diseases"
  • 1:00PM -- NPS scientific needs, resources, research permits, specimen curation
    Mark Depoy, Buffalo River National River [Moderator]
  • 1:45PM -- Discussion
  • 2:00PM -- Outreach to other organizations
    Della Streaty-Wilhoit -- "Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units"
    Elizabeth Sellers -- USGS-NBII -- "National Biological Information Infrastructure: Pollinators and Invasives"
  • 2:30PM -- Available technology
  • 3:00PM -- Break
  • 3:15PM -- Brainstorming
  • 4:30PM -- Outlining next steps
  • 5:00PM -- Adjourn for drinks and dinner

12 May

  • 8:30AM -- Informal scientific discussion: what's needed; what are our priorities; what's are the next steps. [If the weather cooperates, at a picnic ground near the river; otherwise, at the Regional Headquarters.]
  • NOON -- Adjourn

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Name Affiliation Mailing Address E-mail address Phones: O-Office, C-Cell, F-Fax
Walt Carson Univ. of Pittsburgh 148 State Street
Grove City, PA 16127 O- 412-624-5496
Steve Cinnamon NPS-MWRO 601 Riverfront Drive
Omaha, NE 68102 O- 402-661-1864
F- 402-661-1865
Mark DePoy Buffalo Nat'l River 402 North Walnut Street, Suite 136
Harrison, AR 72601 O- 870-741-5446, 270
H- 870-577-7106
Sam Droege USGS-Pautuxent 102 Queen Anne Bridge Road
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774 301-487-5840
Mike Irwin Schlinger Foundation, Univ of Illinois 15634 E Wandering Creek Place
Vail, AZ 85641
Sue Jennings NPS-MWRO 601 Riverfront Drive, Omaha, NE 68102 402-661-1648
Dan Kjar Elmira College Elmira College, 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901 0- 607-735-1826
John Losey Cornell University Dept of Entomology, Cornstock Hall
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853
Jim Mattingly NPS-MWRO 601 Riverfront Drive, Omaha, NE 68102 402-661-1762
Theora McVay NPS-MWRO 601 Riverfront Drive, Omaha, NE 68102 402-661-1662
Albert Meier Western KY University Dept of Biology, Western KY Univ, 1906
College Heights, Bowling Green, KY 42101 0- 270-745-3696
John Pickering University of Georgia Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602 O- 706-542-115
H- 706-353-7076
Ernie Quintana NPS-MWRO 601 Riverfront Drive
Omaha, NE 68102
Elizabeth Sellers USGS-NBII 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Mail Stop 302
Reston VA 20192 0- 703-648-4385
F- 703-648-4224
Michael Soukup NPS
Carmen Thomson NPS-MWR 601 Riverfront Drive, Omaha, NE 68102 0- 402-661-1876
F- 402-661-1877
Gary Vequist NPS-MWR 601 Riverfront Drive, Omaha, NE 68102 0- 402-661-1860
F- 402-661-1861
Della Streaty Wilhoit NPS; Upper Middle Mississippi CESU NPS, U. Missouri, Mumford Hall 226C
Columbia, MO 65211 0- 573-882-7023
F- 573-384-2199
Gary Willson NPS; Great Plains CESU 515 Hardin Hall, UNL, 3310 Holdrege
Lincoln, NE 68583-0985 0- 402-572-5047
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