Citizen science: Amphibian Bioblitz

For my Conservation Biology citizen science project (and because I just enjoy doing things like this anyway), I decided to combine my love of herpetology with a global amphibian survey. The Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is taking part in a global amphibian bioblitz. Other backers include AmphibiaWeb, the Smithsonian ConservationBiology InstituteCenter for Biological Diversity, the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, and AmphibianArk. I actually found the project on the Smithsonian citizen science website. All observations are logged through the iNaturalist app. Basically what it boils down to is this: I go around bodies of water or other places that I suspect an amphibian would call home, photograph and identify the amphibians that I find, and log the gps coordinates of the find. I can also help out by identifying unknown species that are posted by others. I’m excited about this project because it incorporates my favorite hobby: searching for herpetofauna. I’m glad to be able to turn my favorite pastime into something helpful.

So what’s the deal?

According to Amphibiaweb (one of the groups responsible for this survey), nearly one third of the world’s amphibians are disappearing. There are numerous factors, running the gamut from human disturbance to climate change to chytrid (see my next post for more info about that). To track this decline and to better assess the biodiversity of amphibians around the world, scientists and conservationists alike decided to enlist the help of everyday folks. Here’s a YouTube video hosted by Amphibiaweb that explains the project in greater detail:

Why is public participation important?

There are a limited number of scientists but droves of dedicated people (like myself) that are already out in the field looking for wildlife. Citizen-led wildlife surveys are extremely important because they provide detailed information to scientists for free. Plus, asking people outside the scientific community for help gets citizens engaged with global wildlife causes. From little kids to lifelong naturalists, there are countless people who are willing to get their hands dirty to feel closer to the earth and its creatures.

What’s the app like?

So far I really like the iNaturalist app. It’s user-friendly and it doesn’t use a lot of my data. It’s kind of a pain trying to load photos after the fact because I have to look up the GPS coordinates myself, whereas iNaturalist does it for you if you photograph an animal through the app. If I don’t have good cell service I’ll upload photos retroactively and then I use Google Earth to figure out what my coordinates were at the time. I like the public forum aspect because if you’re not sure what species you’ve photographed, other people will quickly jump in and help you identify it. Lastly, it’s just really neat to see what people are finding all over the world. I’ve already found myself researching Pacific Northwest newts because I’ve seen the pictures and I want to know more. There’s a sense of community knowing how many people are out there moseying around looking for slimy things; it just makes the heart glad.

Here’s my first observation for the amphibian bioblitz so far:

On March 27th I found this beautiful green frog (Lithobates clamitans) at the Randolph College botanical garden in Lynchburg, VA. Notice that the tympanum (external ear drum) is larger than the eye, indicating that this individual is a male. For more info, check out this fact sheet provided by the Virginia Herpetological Society (of which I’m a member):

For more information and to track all of the observations, click here

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