Citizen Science – research conducted by non-professional scientists – is a practice that THPRD’s Natural Resources staff is successfully utilizing to keep track of regionally important animal species and pollinators.
The reason our in-house experts are entrusting “amateurs” with this important role is pretty straightforward, says Park Ranger Kyle Spinks.
“If I were to do it myself, it would take about two or three weeks,” said Spinks, who must monitor about 13 sites throughout the district to estimate populations of northern red-legged frogs.
“We need to know where the frogs are, how many there are, if they are breeding. Spreading the task among the volunteers helps us get the data a lot faster.”
About three years ago, THPRD implemented a program that trains volunteers to identify and monitor amphibian egg masses and provide their data to Spinks.
“We can extrapolate their information to get an idea of the size of the breeding population,” he said. “Over time, you get an idea of peak egg mass laying at each site. We can now capture info in a shorter period of time, because we know when amphibians are laying eggs.”
Spinks said similar wildlife survey work is done to monitor turtle populations at about 10 THPRD sites.
“We set our volunteers up with binoculars, we give them training so they know what they’re looking at, and their species counts inform our habitat management decisions,” he said. “For example: turtles need logs to bask. If we know there are turtles at a site, we know to consider putting in basking logs.”
The citizen scientists have also helped THPRD identify invasive turtles that were a threat to the native population. Volunteers joined Spinks to trap and remove non-native turtles, and learn more about the natives.
“We were able to capture, tag and release native turtles,” Spinks said. “Next year, we capture the same turtle, weigh it, measure its growth, and look for injuries and illness. We’re able to monitor the heath of the native population as we take out the invasive species.”
He said the volunteer program supports the regional effort by THPRD, Metro, and other agencies committed to conservation and habitat preservation programs through education.
“It’s been cool to get eighth graders into the water in chest waders to look at egg masses,” he added. “It’s something most kids never get to experience.”
Anyone interested in a unique and educational volunteer opportunity can sign up for this training on our Environmental Volunteers page. Three trainings are scheduled in January: Jan. 13, Jan. 20, Jan. 27.