Yellowstone Phenology Citizen Science Project

My supervisor Erik Oberg developed the Yellowstone Phenology Project, a citizen science initiative that has been made possible by Yellowstone scientists, Yellowstone Forever, and dedicated volunteers. Now in its second year, this project has proved to be effective, as it is enjoyable for volunteers, successfully teaches volunteers how collect and analyze quality data, and bridges the gap between scientists and the public. The Phenology Project aims to obtain data in Yellowstone National Park across a 4,300 foot elevation gradient in order to monitor how the environment is changing over time. At all of the sites along this gradient, volunteers and park scientists collect data from pitfall traps, climate monitoring stations, and plant phenology transects. The NEON Beetle Protocol is implemented for the pitfall traps, which means that our data can be shared with and used by NEON (a.k.a The National Ecological Observatory Network) in order to expand their sampling area.

Once we collect arthropod samples from the pitfall sites, we examine the specimens under a microscope and sort the samples based on order level identification; carabid beetles are special in that they are identified to family level. Beetles in the Carabidae family are the top predators in the insect world and their presence and abundance, in conjunction with climate and plant phenology data, may yield useful information about the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Working with the volunteers has been incredibly rewarding; I have met so many wonderful people since I started assisting with this project. I find myself looking forward to seeing familiar faces, making new friends, learning new things, and sharing my scientific knowledge.

Orthoptera Density Surveys

We began the first round of Orthoptera density surveys in Yellowstone National Park this past week; the protocol we are using is derived from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and is meant to monitor the presence of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets. Normally, the USDA wants this type of information in order to make the best possible management decisions if there is an outbreak or new pest species on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) , USFS (United States Forest Service), or BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) land.

To see how the abundance of each developmental stage varies with elevation, we sampled at seven sites that follow a 4,300 foot elevation gradient. We began by catching grasshoppers that were within a one square foot metal survey hoop, which we tossed 18 times in an arc pattern; each orthoptera survey route consisted of 18 observation counts. This method allowed us to better survey the different vegetation types that are present at each site. We then swept the ground with a butterfly net to see which species and developmental stage(s) were at our site.

Climate Monitoring Stations

The climate monitoring stations are at the same seven sites where we perform our pitfall, plant phenology, and Orthoptera density research. It is critical for these stations to collect data properly, as we hope to compare this data to variations in plant phenology and insect community composition.

Animals tend to use the posts as scratching poles and they enjoy chewing on exposed equipment. Needless to say, maintaining and servicing the climate stations is essential to collecting good quality data. Sound recording data needs to be protected and shaded, cameras sometimes require adjustments, and equipment must be checked and/or fixed every so often.


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