Sunday, February 24, 2013

Social Networks and Biodiversity

Is it possible that a so-called smart-phone can help us preserve rare plants and animals?

If you love nature, you might be interested in "saving" biodiversity (all plants and animals).  And if you are reading this blog, it is likely that you   A.) have an interest in nature   B.) would like to see it conserved for future generations.

So, you may wonder how can a computer help save this?
Ashland Wetlands Biodiversity:
Hickory Hairstreak on Butterfly weed, Asclepiaa tuberosa 
I photographed this unusual butterfly on a "bio blitz" back 2008.  A bio-blitz is a form of citizen science;   volunteers spread out to study and catalogue the biodiversity of a given area.  It gives us an "snapshot" of the nature occurring in our local park, forest or wetland on a particular day.

A traditional bio blitz takes a lot of effort to organize, but now we can record data every day, conveniently on a smart-phone.


 One of Ohio's most prestigious biological institutions held a conference at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, yesterday. The overall theme of the conference was the use of technology in the reporting of data.

Key note speaker, Scott Loarie of Carnegie Institution
Scott Loarie gave a compelling program titled, "Can Social Networks Save Biodiversity?"  He had several well documented examples to share.

Most of his stories included photos or data provided by non-professionals, your basic citizen scientists- who are quite frequently kids!  We lovers of nature seem to have an inborn need to know, or what-the-heck is this bug (or plant, or animal) I just saw? provides a place to post those photos and ask questions.  This citizen science group has  unearthed several exciting finds and helped log information regarding the range and populations of countless species.  Birders may be more familiar with the concept, due to our use of  for bird population data gathering and processing.

GLEDN- Great Lakes Early Detection Network
Another new and exciting program for the Great Lakes was outlined by Kathy Smith, of The Ohio State University, Extension.  It is for reporting invasive species, like Emerald Ash Borers, garlic mustard, and even feral hogs!

Imagine if all of our garden, tree and flower friends logged in and added to this data base!  We could quickly get a clear idea of threats to botany throughout Ohio.  From Flora-Questers in Shawnee to The Biggest Week warbler freaks in Northwest Ohio, we already have an army of citizen scientists in the field.

Consider downloading a reporting app and joining the ranks of volunteers.  This information could prove most valuable as our climate continues to change and scientist look to preserve species unable to adapt or move to favorable habitat.

Technology is opening a whole new world of citizen science, and I hope you consider adding your knowledge and experience to the mix!  


  1. Ohio is truly at the forefront of documenting nature.

  2. We will try to get more information on these programs, and perhaps hand-outs(or a display)for Flora-Quest. This is the perfect group to start collecting data, especially our young techno-fearless interns!

  3. Hey Cheryl, good info. Kathy showed me that free app at the Ohio Invasive Plant Council Research Forum last week. As soon as I got home I loaded it on my smarter-than-me phone. So interesting. It is helping to teach me more about these interlopers. It has pictures of the offenders and detailed descriptions. Very helpful. Cheers - Hal

  4. Hi Cheryl - Good post. Personally I like Project Noah, Butterfly and Moths of North America, and BugGuide on the web. I think only Project Noah has a phone app. I have tried to encourage others to get more staff at Holden to use Project Noah to no avail. Until there is larger user group and consistent site (like eBird)then I fear the "lesser" organisms will stay in the shadows. Maybe your post will help spur interest but I fear you are preaching to the choir.(smile)

  5. Thanks Hal and Treehugger! Yes, I suppose I am preaching to the choir, but doggone if we can't get the choir logging in, what hope is there to engage "normal" folks?

    Hal, you'll have to help me with the download, or the fine points of its use. My phone is smarter than me, too!