Using a plant identification book

April is Citizen Science Month

You probably already know that April is Earth Month and National Native Plant Month, but did you know that April is also Citizen Science Month*?

Citizen science is when members of the general public help conduct scientific research. It involves real people reporting observations and collecting real data that matters to them.

Visitors to Oliver’s Woods engage in citizen science whenever they take a photo at the Chronolog station and contribute to the time lapse of Carmel Creek. The photo station was installed in October 2022 and already we have a tool that shows the creek go from green to dormant, to snowy, to flooded. As we gather more information over time, observable changes in plant life and to the shape of the creek will become more obvious, helping us understand and anticipate how best we can protect and buffer the creek. We may also be able to see how water levels relate to the health of Carmel Creek’s riparian corridor upstream.

But you can practice citizen science from anywhere. Even small acts like sharing a photo of a flower can help scientists understand population distributions. You may be familiar with the smartphone app iNaturalist which allows anyone to upload observations (photos) and share them with both the public and with scientific data repositories. iNaturalist is also a great learning tool for anyone hoping to understand more about plants and critters they may not be familiar with.

Another app, eBird, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a tool similar to iNaturalist that focuses on birds.

Indy-area folks have a unique opportunity to participate in a global citizen science project at the end of the month. From April 28th to May 1st the city of Indianapolis will compete in the City Nature Challenge. The City Nature Challenge is a friendly international competition among cities to see which one can make the most observations of nature, who can find the most species, and who can engage the most people. Only observations uploaded to iNaturalist between April 28th and May 1st will count.

This would be a great reason to visit Oliver’s Woods or another urban preserve or park that weekend, but backyard (or apartment balcony) observations count as well!

The ways to participate in citizen science are endless, and include events and activities such as Monarch Tagging, BioBlitzes, pollinator counts, and more. But remember, citizen science doesn’t only happen in April…

This May, you can get your hands wet with members of the White River Alliance’s River Assesment Field Team (RAFT). During this open house on May 7, stop by Oliver’s Woods and learn how this citizen science group monitors tributaries to the White River and how this data is used.

For more opportunities to learn with CILTI, check out our upcoming Golden Hour Summer Series, where local scientists will share their expertise in things like spider, bats, and more. Also check out our May birding series where you can go on a hike with a birding expert every Tuesday of the month. These opportunities and more can be found on our events calendar.

*Since 2016, SciStarter has organized Citizen Science Month in collaboration with Arizona State University and with support from the National Library of Medicine.

Grace van Kan

White River Steward

Grace grew up roaming the woods, creeks and wetlands around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. From an early trout-raising project to a “gap year” spent restoring coral reefs in Thailand, her interest in aquatic conservation has only grown. Now she cares for several riverine nature preserves as CILTI’s White River Steward.