Discover Life

Have you spotted me?: Learning lessons looking for ladybugs

Discover Life's role in a proposal
to the National Science Foundation
submitted by principal investigator
John Losey, Cornell University

14 December, 2006

John Pickering
The Polistes Foundation

Proposal overview

This page documents the role of The Polistes Foundation in "Have you spotted me?: Learning lessons looking for ladybugs," a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation with John Losey as its principal investigator. This proposal concerns teaching science through the study of coccinellid beetles, more affectionately known as ladybugs. Its scientific goals are to collect high-quality data over a broad geographic scale to better understand the impact of invasive species on native beetles, particularly rare ones.

Through its Discover Life website, The Polistes Foundation provides an integrated suite of software tools, databases, and protocols for students and citizen scientists to conduct inquiry-based research and learn important thinking and creative skills in the process. Our goal is to provide the means for people to discover what is known and unknown about the things they find exploring schoolyards, neighborhoods, and other outdoor areas.

Specific to the ladybug proposal, the Polistes Foundation will

  1. Design and implement web pages on Discover Life where children can enter data and submit photographs.
  2. Design and implement a backend database to maintain the security and integrity of their contributions.
  3. Provide web pages to query and interact with the database, allowing students to map their findings with those of other students, for example.
  4. Build an on-line, interactive, geo-referenced guides to approximately 500 coccinellid species that students can use to identify all but the most difficult species of their local ladybugs. (For an example of our local guide technology, please use "Geo-guides" in the banner of Discover Life's shorefish guide and then click on a location in the Pacific. A guide customized to the fishes in the neighborhood of the selected pixel will appear.)
  5. Integrate the web database system with the species classification software that will be developed at New Mexico State University as part of the overall ladybug proposal.

Ensuring data quality

The goal of citizen science projects often is to teach rather than to do science per se. Consequently, their data may be of poor quality and little scientific use. Fortunately, this need not be so. We will develop rigorous checks and balances to ensure that sufficient, high-quality, replicated data are collected across sites to be valuable to professional scientists, land managers, and policy makers. Participants will photograph and voucher specimens so that we can verify species identifications, for example. We will use software to cross-check data, rank potential quality, and filter out mistakes and unreliable individuals.

For more information, you can view the proposal here.


Organizational structure

Our web services include tools to submit and database photographs, make barcoded specimen labels, identify species, report findings, make maps, and analyze results. We will provide these services through the website Discover Life and its umbrella organization, The Polistes Foundation.

  • Discover Life ( provides free on-line tools to help users gather and share information about nature. Its computer network at the University of Georgia and Missouri Botanical Garden has served over 100 million pages and images since the website's inception in 1998. In the month of November, 2006, it had 6,560,000 hits from 131,000 IP addresses. The site manages over 500 integrated databases which are update frequently via the Internet from numerous contributors. As of December 2006, it had information on 520,000 species. Discover Life uses a suite of server-side web tools to help users identify and maps species, process images, make labels to track specimens, and report findings. These tools are owned by the Polistes Corporation and are licensed in perpetuity for use on Discover Life at no cost. For a prospectus on Discover Life and its technology, see

  • The Polistes Foundation ( is the legal 501-c-3 non-profit umbrella of Discover Life. It has a distinguished board of educators, scientists, and computer experts, which includes Jane Goodall, Peter Raven, and E. O. Wilson. Its contributing partners include the American Museum, Field Museum, Harvard University, Missouri Botanical Garden, Smithonian Institution, Sun Microsystems, Inc., and Its support includes a 5-year cooperative agreement with the US Geological Survey's National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) entitled "Web tools to identify, report, and map invasive species in North America" (see This agreement specifies the legal ownership of software and the copyright of contributions to Discover Life. If at some point, The Polistes Foundation is unable to maintain Discover Life, the agreement specifies that it will be transferred to a non-profit organization or government agency.


Budget justification

  • Personnel
    1. Technical coordination; programming a "Have you spotted me?" user interface to existing web services
      John Pickering (,_John.html) founded Discover Life and coordinates its technical development and activities. He is President of The Polistes Foundation and a faculty member at the University of Georgia. He has extensive experience in biodiversity research, bioinformatics, teaching ecology, and outreach to schools. He will coordinate the activities of the web/database team. [$24,000 @ $200/hr]
    2. Programming map interface on for Discover Life
      Ed McNierney (,_Ed.html) is Founder and Executive Vice President of ( His company will provide participants with over 40 terabytes of online map layers and aerial photographs through its web services to Discover Life at no cost to the project. These include all U.S. topographical maps, aerial photographs at 1 meter/pixel resolution for 99% of the United States, and aerial photographs at 1 sq.ft./pixel for over 300 U.S. metropolitan areas. McNierney will add map layer options to Topozone's existing interface for the Global Mapper. [$6,000 @ $200/hr].
    3. Technical support, training, and guide building
      Ashley MacDonald (,_Ashley.html) provides technical support and training to Discover Life's contributors and users. She has extensive experience building IDnature Guides and will build one to approximately 500 coccinellid beetles. She has a BS from the University of Georgia and has spent this fall working part-time on an NSF project and substitute teaching high school science classes. This January she will start a master's program in Science Education. Once the project begins, she will work approximately half-time during the school year and full-time during the summer. In addition to providing technical support/training and guide building, she will manage the image and map databases. [$80,000 @ $20-$30/hr].
    4. Web page design and administrative support
      Rachelle Wallace (,_Rachelle.html) will graduate with a BS in Biochemistry in June, 2007. She is currently applying to graduate programs in Biochemisty. She has worked for Discover Life since February, 2005, and knows its file structure and user interface. She knows HTML and has designed web pages for several other websites. She will provide the project approximately quarter-time support by building the user interface, answering emails, and providing Pickering with administrative support. [$40,000 @ $20-$30/hr]
    5. Unix system support, security, and backup
      Justin Long (,_Justin.html) has been on Discover Life's team since he was a sophomore. He is currently a second-year student in medical school, where he provides general system support for Discover Life's network of servers. He is familiar with all aspects of Discover Life's technology, from guide building to networking. He will spend 2-4 hours per week doing systems work to ensure the servers are functioning, secure, and fully backed-up to on-site and off-site locations. Should something unforeseen happen to Pickering, Long has the knowledge to make sure that Discover Life continues to function and grow. [$22,000/yr @ $30-$50/hr]

  • Travel
    For the co-PI or technical staff to travel from the University of Georgia to Cornell University and elsewhere for planning, training, and evaluation meetings.

  • Equipment
    We propose to add two additional servers to Discover Life's network at the University of Georgia to handle the additional load and storage needs that the project will require.

  • Supplies
    No support is requested for software licences or incidental supplies. These will be provided as part of the cooperative agreement between NBII and the Polistes Foundation.

  • Indirect costs
    The Polistes Foundation charges 5% indirect costs for fiduciary services all grants and other financial agreements.

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