As major winter storms have intensified, populations of monarch butterflies have declined. And unusually warm spring weather is causing plants to flower early. Scientists know these trends exist because of observations from volunteers across the country. Research like this, which is conducted by amateur scientists and hobbyists, is called citizen science.

Woman looking through binoculars

Ries: “There’s a network out there now of observers who are sharing their observations with us in real time on very large scales, and the data is just coming in from all parts of the globe.”

That’s Leslie Ries, an ecologist at Georgetown University. She says citizen science is not just about observational field work.

Ries: “The nice thing about citizen science is there are all different kinds of projects, whether it’s being out in the field and doing observations, or even just transcribing old records, there are lots of different programs that can engage people on different levels.”

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To ensure the quality of the information gathered by citizen scientists, most research groups provide them with detailed instructions and training. Citizen scientists, collecting data around the world, have enormously improved our understanding of the many ways climate change is affecting the earth.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Jason Jackson.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
A Citizen Army for Science: Quantifying the Contributions of Citizen Scientists to our Understanding of Monarch Butterfly Biology
Ordinary People Play Hidden Role in Studying Climate Change
Butterflies and Moths of North America
MonarchNet: The North American network of monarch butterfly monitoring programs

Lisa Palmer is a freelance journalist and a fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, SESYNC, in Annapolis, Md. Her writing covers the environment, energy, food security, agriculture,...