Young citizen scientists use iPads to combat invasive species

4-H Tech Wizards map invasive plants in Bay County.

Tech Wizards mentors and mentees use Midwest Invasive Species Information Network app to identify invasive plant species. Photo: Bay County 4-H

Tech Wizards mentors and mentees use Midwest Invasive Species Information Network app to identify invasive plant species. Photo: Bay County 4-H

Technology has given the general public unprecedented access to the world of scientific research. We can monitor water quality from our desktop, read the daily thoughts of Noble Prize-winning scientists on Twitter, and download photos of the mountain ranges of Pluto. Perhaps even more exciting, technology presents opportunities for the public to become active participants in the research process. Citizen science relies on regular people to collect information that is then compiled and analyzed to help scientists answer questions about the natural world. Citizen science allows for data collection at a scale that no team of professional researchers can hope to achieve.

A group of science curious fifth-graders and their mentors recently learned about the many benefits and complications of citizen science during a Bay County 4-H Tech Wizards service project. The 4-H Tech Wizards program is administered through MSU Extension and works to match adult mentors with youth and develop year-long mentoring relationships through active engagement in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities.

The Bay County 4-H Tech Wizards in collaboration with Michigan Sea Grant staff used an app from the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) to map the presence of invasive plant species in a local park. MISIN is a regional network that provides early detection and rapid response resources for both terrestrial and aquatic invasive species. The interactive MISIN app allows users to identify invasive species, map GPS coordinates, and take photos to document species density and coverage area. 4-H Tech Wizards students used the app to document the presence of several invasive plant species in the park including buckthorn, spotted knapweed, reed canary grass, and Phragmites. The students’ data will be added to the larger regional database of invasive species sightings and help researchers and resource managers gain a better understanding of the characteristics and coverage of invasive plants in Michigan.  

You, too, can become a citizen scientist and help track invasive species coverage in your community by downloading and using the MISIN app.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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