A new social networking site engages any adventurer, hiker or backyard naturalist, who totes a camera, as a “citizen scientist” and offers a chance to help scientists survey and hopefully save the world’s amphibians.
The platform begins with a new partnership between Global Amphibian Blitz, sponsored by iNaturalist, and University of California, Berkeley’s AmphibiaWeb, a comprehensive database of the world’s nearly 7,000 amphibians, involving many biological groups from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to the Amphibian Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission, which is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The website allows amateur naturalists from around the world to upload their amphibian photographs along with dates and GPS locations. The project is curated by a team of scientists who will identify and filter the submissions in search of rare species or out-of-range occurrences of interest to the scientific and conservation communities.
“The distributions of many amphibian species are so poorly known that every observation helps,” said herpetologist Michelle Koo, a UC Berkeley. Koo is a research scientist who helps manage AmphibiaWeb. “Using social networks to partner with amateurs is a powerful new tool for scaling biodiversity data for science and conservation.”
According to iNaturalist.org co-director Scott Loarie, amphibians around the world are disappearing at a rapid rate. Recent estimates suggest that nearly one-third of all amphibians – some 2,000 species – are threatened with extinction. In the last two decades alone, nearly 168 species are thought to have gone extinct.
With increased land use and climate change around the world, it is no wonder that the species are dwindling. But to curtail the trend and keep it from worsening, we need to better understand and conserve these diverse and fascinating creatures. Scientists are looking for new ways to efficiently collect large quantities of information on where amphibians persist.
In the past, the usefulness of citizen science projects such as eBird has been questioned because of the difficulty in validating amateur data, such as bird species identification.
However, the observations of the amphibians will emphasis on photographs and scientifically verified identifications. “The collaboration between the amateur and scientific communities is what makes this project unique and exciting,” Loarie said. “We’re not asking amateur naturalists to provide expert identifications – that’s for the scientific community to do.”
The key benefit by having “citizen scientists,” is “being in the right place at the right time and armed with a camera. Amateurs can provide information that scientists could never dream of collecting on their own.”
The time it takes to upload an observation of an amphibian is about 2 to 3 minutes. You can sign on via your Twitter or Facebook account or start a new account at the website. So far the observation counts are at 6, 813.
“Up until now, many of these amphibians have been going extinct completely under the radar screen, with no one watching at all,” said Koo. “We’ve taken a lot of care to protect sensitive information, and we have an opportunity to recruit thousands to help us keep an eye on these animals so we can ensure they persist through the 21st century.”