Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are spending their free time counting birds, measuring water quality, or monitoring pollinators. They may also be counting asteroids, collecting bugs, measuring air quality, reporting wildlife sightings, or tracking monarch migration. The amazing thing is that these people are not career scientists. They live in the city and in the country, go backpacking or have picnics in the park. They vary in age and it doesn’t matter what their job is. They are community scientists.
Community science is the practice of data collection by everyday people, that is, people who aren’t scientists. Community scientists volunteer their time to help collect data, analyze results, and solve problems about important issues facing our natural world, and that includes our national parks.
Sometimes, the best and easiest way to collect data is to involve volunteers. For example, if a park manager needs to know what areas of the park need better protection, they may need to know where rare plants are blooming each year. A mobile app can support volunteer scientists to record when they see those flowers, and if hundreds of people get involved in the project, there will be more data than if the single scientist tried to explore the entire park alone. This can also be a great way for visitors to learn, get excited, and be involved in something important. By taking part in real science in the park, visitors can learn to appreciate their national parks in new ways.
This week, on America’s National Parks Podcast, we’re exploring stories of community science in our national parks.