What plant and animal species live at the Arboretum, and which of them need protecting? When do the migratory birds arrive and leave? Are the plants blooming earlier or later than in the past?
Contributing to citizen science projects while you visit the Humber Arboretum is a fun way to both increase your own knowledge and to help us create healthy communities and thriving nature.
Citizen science, sometimes also called community science or crowd-sourced science, is when members of the general public contribute their efforts to advance scientific knowledge. Citizen science can take many forms. A few examples include:
In many citizen science projects, a researcher has a specific question they want answered. They devise a method to answer that question and recruit people to help them collect and/or analyze the needed data. The volunteers may only need a few simple instructions to take part, or they may need more detailed training. Sometimes a participating volunteer who has previous knowledge in the subject area, relevant skills, or who is willing to take on more in-depth training will take on a team leadership role in the project. In some cases the project is even more collaborative, and participants are involved in designing the research question or methods from the beginning.
A local example of ta researcher-driven project was The urbanredbud Project led by U of T researchers, which asked people to observe the flowering time of redbud trees to help the researchers understand the impact climate change and urbanization are having on flowering plants and their pollinators.
Another popular type of citizen science projects are ongoing data collection projects. These projects are based around a much broader type of question, and then the data is made available to researchers and in some cases the general public, to help answer more specific research questions as they arise.
Both iNaturalist and eBird, detailed below, are this type of project, where users continually add their observations of the natural world to a growing database, and researchers can use it to investigate migratory patters, changes in species range, and more.
"... a lot of people care passionately about the natural world and want to do something to protect it—and that's good because it needs protection, it doesn't stay protected by itself—and when we give people the opportunity to do something that is useful, and the tools to do it, I find many people are willing to step up, and we need those folks." ~ Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (2015-2019), on CBC Fresh Air, December 15, 2018
The best citizen science projects meet two objectives - creating valuable data that will have a real-world impact, and providing an opportunity for the participants to develop their own knowledge and skills.
According to the Environment Commissioner of Ontario's 2018 report 'Back to Basics Vol 3: Wildlife and Wilderness,' data gathered through citizen science programs is an important and growing part of our knowledge of biodiversity in the province: "In fact, data generated by citizen science programs accounts for over 40% of the observations of the provincially tracked species by the ministry’s Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC)" [pg 17]. Decisions relating to conservation and restoration are made based on the best information available–the more information, the better the decisions can be!
Participating in nature-based citizen science can make you more observant, more analytical, and more aware of the natural world around you. For students of Humber College, participation can help you work toward the Humber Learning Outcomes, improving your sustainability and systems thinking mindsets, your critical thinking, and your digital fluency and communication skills. It's also a great excuse to get outside!
Citizen science projects are incorporated into various student service learning experiences here at the Humber Arboretum, and are encouraged as a meaningful way for visitors of all ages and abilities to engage with the space.
There are two ongoing nature connection / data collection projects the Humber Arboretum actively uses and promotes:
iNaturalist is a combination citizen science project and social media platform which allows participants to record their observations of wild organisms and take part in the identification and discussion of the observations of others.
The Humber Arboretum currently:
The first annual Humber Arboretum iNaturalist Challenge for Humber College and UofGH students is on now!
eBird is also an ongoing data collection project, focused solely on birds. Rather than focusing on an observation of a single organism like iNaturalist does, eBird is all about recording a larger snapshot of the bird population in a certain time and place, so users create lists of all of the species they've seen during a walk or a stationary count, and include how many of each species they've seen.
The Humber Arboretum currently:
eBirders do need to have a little knowledge of local bird species to get started; you can also download the free app Merlin to help you identify the birds you've seen.
Lynn Short, Professor of Horticulture at Humber College and the Humber Arboretum's Environmental Stewardship Coordinator, spent several years developing a manual removal technique for the invasive grass phragmites (Phragmites australis australis).
In 2018/19, she worked with the Toronto environmental charity EcoSpark, which partnered with the City of Toronto’s Community Stewardship program and the Humber Arboretum, to see how well trained citizen scientists could use the technique. The project was a success, with volunteers causing minimal disturbance to the surrounding plants while seriously impacting the future growth of phragmites.