Under development -- please share but do not cite -- draft 16 September, 2010


3. Objectives, Rationale, and Significance

3.1 Capacity building
We propose to study species and their interactions with teams of students at 95 field sites, building a powerful new multi-site framework for natural history research. It will allow us to address large-scale research questions (section 3.2) and mentor a new generation of field scientists.

Traditional methods of collecting and managing specimen-level data are neither economically nor functionally feasible for studying the driving forces of large-scale ecological phenomena. While required for systematics, processing physical specimens is too laborious and inefficient to yield sufficient replicates of comparable data across sites and over time. Faced with this problem, many studies have turned to citizen scientists to collect data rapidly and over extensive geographical areas (Crall et al. 2010). However, when data are strictly observational, they generally lack credibility and scientific rigor, because species identifications cannot be verified and are often wrong (Mumby et al. 1995, Ericsson and Wallin 1999, Barrett et al. 2002, Genet and Sargent 2003, Brandon et al. 2003).

To address these issues, Discover Life has designed a system to collect, identify, integrate and check large quantities of high-quality data using digital photography, web tools and rigorous protocols. Our experience with the Lost Ladybug Project shows that when image data are verified by experts they can be of very high-quality. We are now ready to expand our system across a network of field sites and taxa, enabling researchers to answer ecological questions across scales ranging from local to continental.

3.2 Research Questions
Our initial work focuses on six questions. We will expand these to additional taxa as researchers join the network.

4. Methods