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Community science has big impact on conservation

Community science can be easy, researchers that the Butterfly Pavilion say, however, the results can make big impacts on conservation. Community science programs allow locals to help further local science endeavors.

Community science can be easy, researchers at the Butterfly Pavilion say, however, the results can make big impacts on conservation.

Community science programs allow locals to help further local science endeavors. For the Butterfly Pavilion, this could include one of three programs, Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network, Colorado Dragonfly Monitoring Project and the Urban Prairies Project.

Each program offers a different study that can include a variety of interests but all have in common that no prior experience is necessary. 

These programs are designed to gather data for researchers to learn more about what is happening with invertebrate populations and their ecosystems throughout Colorado. 

Last year, community scientists were able to document a drastic change in the monarch population. According to Shiran Hershcovich, lepidopterist manager at the Butterfly Pavilion, monarch butterfly populations have decreased over the past decades to the point where many scientists feared the butterfly might be headed for extinction.

Hershcovich said with the help of community scientists, researchers were able to document a drastic increase in the monarch butterfly population which was consistent across many states.

“It is essential to have these butterfly warriors with their notepads going out in the field and reporting this back to us,” Hershcovich stated.

The data collected allows researchers to monitor various populations, prevent extinction and halt declines of invertebrate species but it also goes beyond that. 

Municipalities across the country are looking at conservation studies more as they make land management decisions and develop policy, said Ashley White, community habitats manager at the Butterfly Pavilion.

White said access to community science data “can really inform really educated quality decision making that has a tangible impact.” 

One example she gave was of a local open space area where burrowing owls have nested for years. Community scientists recorded a decrease in the owl population in the area. Researchers took the data to the local municipality to see how the area could be better protected. Researchers and city staff learned that the decrease in the owl population was likely due to an increase in off-leash dogs in the area.

Local leash laws were adapted to the area and soon owl populations returned, White said. 

A side benefit to inviting the community into the science process, Hershcovich said, is that people often become more interested in conservation. 

“When people arm themselves as community scientists they have a transformative outlet for making an impact in their own backyard. That’s pretty powerful because after that it kinda snowballs into ‘Oh there is so much I can do. I have so many tools in my hands. I can see this improvement that I am doing with my very own hands,’” Hershcovich said.

In the Urban Prairies Project, community scientists are able to take soil samples, catalog animals and document the types of plants in local open spaces. This data is later used to determine the best way to keep those ecosystems balanced. 

Not only do community scientists collect the data but they also have an opportunity to weigh in on what happens in those open spaces and later implement the change, White said. 

The data collected by local community scientists also is shared with global partners. Currently, the Butterfly Pavilion is working with worldwide organizations on studies involving the monarch butterfly and the cascading effects on bats and birds. 

“I think the idea with science, for a long time, was it got shared … behind scientific journals and paywalls. But the special thing about community science is it’s kinda breaking down those walls and barriers and making that data accessible not only to other scientists but also to policymakers and the public and people who want to make a difference even in their own backyard,” Hershcovich stated.


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