Posts Tagged ‘Citizen scientists’

Help the Hemlocks

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I first saw the hemlock wooly adelgid in action about 15 years ago. Its telltale wooly white egg masses appeared on a few branches of three hemlock trees in my next-door neighbor’s yard in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Within three years the trees were dead. Since then the insect, which arrived in North America from Asia in the 1920s, has become a major scourge of eastern forests from Maine to Georgia. It is spreading rapidly into the oldest and largest hemlock stands in the Southern Appalachians, where some of the trees are 800 years old and more than 175 feet tall.

In fact, new research suggests the hemlock woolly adelgid is killing hemlock trees even faster than expected in the Southern Appalachians and most of the region’s hemlocks could be dead within the next decade. The hemlock plays a fundamental role in the ecology and hydrology of mountain habitats. Its thick, evergreen canopies help cool mountain streams that are home to trout. Many birds find shelter and places to nest in the hemlock’s evergreen boughs. In one study, 96 percent of all wood thrush nests found by surveyors were in hemlocks. Some warblers only nest in hemlocks.

Few of the growing number of U.S. native trees beset by pestilence have a federal task force devoted to their survival. The hemlock does. Among other things, the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Action Team coordinates control efforts and runs a public education and outreach campaign. While homeowners can treat individual trees with horticultural oils or chemical pesticides, this isn’t practical for entire forests of afflicted trees. The most promising backwoods treatments found so far are two tiny nonnative beetles that dine voraciously on adelgids (and, scientists say, only adelgids). Tests in Connecticut and Virginia show that these beetles can reduce hemlock wooly adelgid populations by 47 to 87 percent in five months. The beetles have been released in selected areas throughout the Southern Appalachians.

Still, the scale of the hemlock wooly adelgid epidemic is so huge that scientists and public land managers won’t be able to contain it without the public’s help. Details on how you can monitor and treat trees on your own property and get involved in efforts to protect hemlocks in the wild are on the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Action Team’s website.

Missing Bees — How You Can Help

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

About a decade ago, bee biologists began to observe that several wild bumble bee species were declining dramatically. Three of them were important crop pollinators: the western bumble bee, once one of the three most common bumble bees in the western U.S. and Canada, the rusty patched bumble bee, which was widespread in 26 eastern and midwestern U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, and the yellowbanded bumble bee, which was frequently found throughout the east and upper Midwest of the U.S. as well as most of southern Canada. A fourth, Franklin’s bumble bee, historically had a small range in southern Oregon and northern California and may now be extinct.

What caused the decline? Commercial rearing of bumble bees for crop pollination may be the culprit. Bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp believes that members of these closely related species probably caught a disease from a European bee in the same rearing facility. The North American bumble bees would have had no resistance to the pathogen, which then spread to wild populations.

The Xerces Society is asking citizen monitors as well as scientists to be on the lookout for these species and report back with any findings. You can find photos, identification tips, information on the life history and habits of the bees, and contact information in the Bumble Bees in Decline section of their website. 

Citizen Scientist Documents Plants on the Move

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Three cheers for citizen scientists! Twenty years of data compiled by an avid hiker and naturalist and analyzed by researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson show that plants in the state’s Santa Catalina Mountains are flowering at higher elevations as summer temperatures rise. 

Dave Bertelsen told Science Daily he’s been hiking the Finger Rock trail one to two times a week since 1983 and recording what plants are in flower. His 5-mile hike starts in desert scrub and climbs 4,158 feet, ending in pine forest. He’s completed 1,206 round-trip hikes and recorded data on nearly 600 plant species. The researchers found that during the 20-year study period, summer temperatures in the region increased about 1.8 degree Fahrenheit.

Bertelson hooked up with the scientists at a 2005 meeting about monitoring plant species held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in which one of them, UA climatologist Michael Crimmins, discussed his need for data to study the effect of climate change on ecosystems over time. According to Theresa Crimmins, research specialist for the UA’s Arid Lands Information Center and lead author of the resulting paper, the role of citizen scientists is becoming ever more important—biological changes caused by climate change are coming fast, she says, and ”more eyes on the ground” are needed to monitor them.