My first citizen science item concerns summertime when the ants are out and about, oftentimes as uninvited participants to a picnic. Scientists at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of Florida (UF) have decided to take advantage of this summer phenomenon as per a July 7, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,
Scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Florida have combined cookies, citizen science and robust research methods to track the diversity of ant species across the United States, and are now collaborating with international partners to get a global perspective on how ants are moving and surviving in the modern world.
“We think our School of Ants project serves as a good model for how citizen science can be used to collect more data, more quickly, from more places than a research team could do otherwise,” says Dr. Andrea Lucky, a researcher at the University of Florida who started work on the School of Ants while a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and now heads the project. Lucky is co-lead author of a paper describing the work and its early findings. “And our protocols help ensure that the data we are collecting are high quality.”
A July 7, 2014 NCSU news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the various objectives for the project,
The School of Ants project was developed at NC State to help researchers get a handle on the diversity of ant species across the United States, with a particular focus on Chicago, Raleigh and New York City. In short, to discover which ant species are living where.
“But we also wanted to launch a citizen science project that both increased the public’s ecological literacy and addressed criticisms that public involvement made citizen science data unreliable,” says Dr. Amy Savage , a postdoctoral biological sciences researcher at NC State and the other co-lead author of the paper.
The research protocol, process, and outcomes are then described (from the news release),
The researchers developed a simple protocol involving Pecan Sandies cookies and sealable plastic bags, detailing precisely how the public should collect and label ant samples before shipping them to NC State or UF. [emphasis mine] This process was designed to engage the public in the aspect of the research that was easiest for non-scientists to enjoy and participate in, while also limiting the chances that the public could make mistakes that would skew the findings.
Once the samples arrive at NC State or UF, they are sorted, identified by a team of national experts and entered into a database. That information is then made publicly available in a user-friendly format on the project’s schoolofants.org site, allowing study participants to track the survey.
“This information is helping us tackle a variety of ecological and evolutionary questions, such as how ants may be evolving in urban environments, and how invasive species are spreading in the U.S.,” Savage says.
More than 1,000 participants, with samples from all 50 states, have taken part in the project since its 2011 launch – and there have already been some surprising findings.
For example, the researchers learned that a venomous invasive species, the Asian needle ant (Pachycondyla chinensis), had spread thousands of miles farther than anyone expected. Researchers knew the species had established itself in the Southeast, but study participants sent in Asian needle ant samples from as far afield as Wisconsin and Washington state.
To build on the School of Ants model, the researchers have launched collaborations with counterparts in Italy and Australia.
“We’re optimistic that this project will give us a broader view of ant diversity and how these species intersect with us, where we live and work around the world,” Lucky says.
The researchers are also working with teachers to incorporate the project into K-12 instruction modules that incorporate key elements of common core education standards. One early teacher collaboration has led to a research paper co-written by 4th and 5th graders.
“We also collaborated with a science writer to produce a free series of iBooks featuring natural history stories about the most common ants that our citizen science partners are collecting in their backyards and sidewalks,” Savage says.
“One of our big goals now is to move from collecting data and finding patterns to identifying ways that we can work with the public to figure out what is driving those patterns,” says Dr. Rob Dunn, an associate professor of biological sciences at NC State and co-author of the paper.
Not being familiar with Pecan Sandies cookies I went searching on the internet and found many recipes including this one from Martha Stewart’s website,
prep: 15 mins
total time: 30 mins
yield: Makes 18
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
For best results, line cookie sheets with parchment prior to baking.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer on low, gradually add flour, beating just until combined. Fold in pecans.
Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, and place on two baking sheets, 2 inches apart. With the dampened bottom of a glass, lightly flatten each ball.
Bake until cookies are golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to wire racks, and let cool.
This is what they look like (also from the Martha Stewart website),
[downloaded from http://www.marthastewart.com/342386/pecan-sandies]
I also checked out the School of Ants project website
and found this,
The School of Ants project is a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Participation is open to anyone interested!
Anyone can participate! Learn how to create your own sampling kit, sample your backyard or schoolyard, and get our collection back to us so that we can ID the ants and add your species list to the big School of Ants map. Together we’ll map ant diversity and species ranges across North America! Click here to get started!
There is at least one question you might want to ask before running off to collect ants, the researchers specify Keebler Pecan Sandies cookies are to be used as bait. I’m not sure how available those specific cookies and brand are in Canada, Mexico, Italy, or Australia. You may want to check with the organizers as to what alternatives might be acceptable. From the Participate webpage on the School of Ants website,
SAMPLING ANTS for the School of Ants involves placing cookie baits outdoors in green spaces (lawns, gardens, woods) and paved places (asphalt, concrete, cobblestone) for one hour on a warm day. We want to know what ants discover the baits in your neighborhood!(ALLERGY WARNING!: this activity uses Keebler Pecan Sandies cookies, which contain pecans, wheat, egg and whey).
Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
Ecologists, educators, and writers collaborate with the public to assess backyard diversity in The School of Ants Project [PDF] by Andrea Lucky, Amy M. Savage, Lauren M. Nichols, Leonora Shell, Robert R. Dunn, Cristina Castracani, Donato A. Grasso, and Alessandra Mori. Ecosphere 5(7):78. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES13-00364.1 Published: online July 7, 2014,
Ecosphere is an open access journal. The PDF is 23 pp.
For my second citizen science item, I have a call for proposals for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference (CS2015), February 11 & 12, 2015 in San Jose, California (prior to the 2015 AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] annual meeting February 12 -16, 2015 also in San Jose). Here’s more about the Citizen Science conference from the Overview page,
Anyone involved in citizen science is invited to attend this conference. Attendees will include citizen science participants, researchers, project leaders, educators, technology specialists, evaluators, and others – representing many disciplines including astronomy, molecular biology, human and environmental health, psychology, linguistics, environmental justice, biodiversity, conservation biology, public health, genetics, engineering, cyber technology, gaming, and more – at any level of expertise. There will be opportunities throughout the conference to make connections, share insights, and help move this field forward.
We have identified six main themes for this year’s conference:
- Tackling Grand Challenges and Everyday Problems with Citizen Science
- Broadening Engagement to Foster Diversity and Inclusion
- Making Education and Lifelong Learning Connections (K-12, university, informal)
- Digital Opportunities and Challenges in Citizen Science
- Research on and Evaluation of the Citizen Science Experience
- Best Practices for Designing, Implementing, and Managing Citizen Science Projects and Programs
Here are important dates for the conference (from a June 30, 2014 email announcement),
September 15, 2014 CS2015 Deadline to submit proposals* (talks, posters, etc)
October 6, 2014 CS2015 Proposal selection notices sent out
November 10, 2014 CS2015 Early-bird registration discount ends
February 11 & 12, 2015 CS2015 Conference
Here’s more detail, from the Presentation Styles webpage,
… Several formats are available to choose from: three styles of oral presentations; symposia/panel discussions; and posters.
Audio-visual equipment will be provided as needed for all session types except posters.
Talks allow speakers to present their work in 12 minutes, with 3 additional minutes for audience questions. Talks with similar themes will be grouped together into sessions.
Speed Talks, as the name suggests, challenge each presenter to cover his or her topic in 5 minutes or less. Following a series of speed presentations, there will be time for audience members to gather with presenters for discussion.
Story Presentations (15 minutes) emphasize sharing valuable lessons through storytelling. We especially encourage telling stories of “what didn’t work and why” and strategies for addressing challenges and unintended consequences.
Symposium Sessions or Panel Discussions (1 to 2 hours)
Every symposium or panel has one convener (most likely the person submitting this proposal); that person is responsible for organizing the session and will act as the session’s contact person with conference organizers. Additionally, that person will moderate/guide the session. Symposia/Panels may be 1-to-2 hours in length, depending on the number of proposed talks, and must include at least 15 minutes for questions and discussion with the audience.
The proposal must (1) describe the symposium or panel’s objective, (2) how it will contribute to the overall theme of the conference, and (3) include a list of proposed speakers (and, in the case of a symposium, each speaker’s topic).
Posters are designed to visually display information and engage fellow attendees in an informal way. There will be two Poster Sessions—one each day—inviting attendees to discuss posters with authors. Posters will also be on display outside of formal poster-session times. All accepted posters will be given a display space measuring 4 x 4 feet (1.2 X 1.2 meters) in the Poster Hall (no additional audio-visual aids are permitted).
You can access a link to submit your proposal here.
CS2015 is being called a pre-conference to the AAAS meeting as per the Prepare for the Conference page,
Registration details, including the conference registration fee, are not yet finalized. We are seeking funding to help support the conference and keep it affordable to all. Check back for updates, or join the CSA to receive periodic updates.
Attend Two Great Conferences
CS2015 is a pre-conference of the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which immediately follows our meeting at the San Jose Convention Center. The AAAS theme for 2015 is “Innovations, Information, and Imaging.” Once you have completed your CS2015 registration, you will receive instructions on how to register for the AAAS Annual Meeting (February 12-16, 2015) at the discounted rate of $235. AAAS registration will open in August 2014.
Good luck with your proposal and with your ant-captures!