The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 24, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

The first-ever Vermont Atlas of Life Field Day excites citizen scientists

WOODSTOCK - On Saturday, July 20, nature enthusiasts of all ages met and worked with professional naturalists at Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park (MBR), in Woodstock, during the first-ever Vermont Atlas of Life Field Day.

Vermont Atlas of Life is an ambitious project, launched this past January by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, that seeks to use crowd-sourcing to build an interactive map of all plant and animal species in the state. By making use of iNaturalist, a popular online service that allows observers of nature to share and collectively organize their sightings, the Vermont Atlas of Life relies on data generated by "citizen scientists" - anyone, with or without training, who joins the project online and contributes data on animals and plants that they see around them. 

"One of the most amazing things about the nature of Vermont is how little we know," said Kent McFarland, senior conservation biologist for the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. "The atlas will generate excitement, discoveries, and greater understanding of biodiversity across the state."

So far, the Atlas has contributed to special initiatives, including invasive species occurrences and spring wildflower blooming. There are nearly 14,000 observations already in the database.

The Center for Ecostudies hopes to mobilize a growing network of citizen scientists by partnering with the National Park to host an Atlas of Life Field Day. VCE naturalists led several walks through MBR's woodland to demonstrate how anyone, from school children to seasoned professional birders, can make research-quality observations and record their findings in the iNaturalist database - a process that can be done from any computer or smartphone after downloading a free app and creating an iNaturalist account.

Citizen scientists make important contributions to the research of professional scientists, and those who attended the Field Day had an opportunity to do so by focusing their attention birds, insects, and plants.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is located off 54 Elm Street in Woodstock, Vt. For more info call 802-457-3368.