45. Community Science

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Community Science

Saturday, October 22 at 1:00-2:40 pm, Oak Room

Session Description: Community science is transforming our collective understanding of biodiversity by galvanizing and including communities at every level. As projects expand knowledge of native plants, they simultaneously expand our shared connections to the natural world. Session speakers will share strategies and approaches to designing, implementing and interpreting community science projects.

Session Chair: Andrea Williams (CNPS, Sacramento, CA, USA)

45.1    True partnerships between communities and academia can turn a Citizen Science program into a powerful tool against a major threat to California biodiversity: the Sudden Oak Death Blitzes example

Doug Schmidt and Matteo Garbelotto (Department of ESPM-ES, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA USA)

The Sudden Oak Death (SOD) blitzes inform and educate the community about Sudden Oak Death, get locals involved in detecting the disease and produce detailed local maps of disease distribution (Meentemeyer et al.). The map can then be used to identify those areas where the infestation may be mild enough to justify proactive management. The program has been successful for 15 years in a row, has resulted in the creation of the SODmap, the largest tree disease distribution database in the world, and produced data used in a significant number of peer-reviewed papers. Furthermore, data in the SODmap has been estimated to have been accessed by over 3 million users, exemplifying how an activity engaging hundreds of volunteers can benefit an entire community of millions. Some of the reasons of the success of the program include: a grassroot bottom-up organization of local events and involvement of communities, a broad and diverse demographic of participants with a high return rate, the “ask” of the program requires significant skill but is simple enough that participants can become skilled in a short well-designed training, the use of pencil and paper in the field rather than using common electronic platforms, providing all necessary collection materials for free, the laboratory testing of all samples collected by volunteers, and the use of high tech on-line platforms to share results in real time with volunteers, agencies and the public.

45.2    Can participatory science help to monitor invasive tree pests?

Beatriz Nobua-Behrmann (University of California Cooperative Extension – UC Agricultural and Natural Resources, Irvine, CA, USA), Gregory Ira (California Naturalist – UC ANR), Sabrina Drill (University of California Cooperative Extension)

Invasive shothole borers (ISHB) are tiny invasive beetles that are responsible for the decline and death of thousands of trees in Southern California. Their preferred hosts include box elder, willow, sycamore, cottonwood, and several other California native trees that grow in natural riparian habitats and/or are commonly used in urban landscapes. Detecting infestations early is key for successful management of this pest and to prevent the spread to new areas. Participatory science can be a useful tool to identify infestation focuses and help monitor high-risk areas. However, accurately identifying the presence of ISHB is challenging because the beetles spend most of their lives within the tree, hence we must rely on signs and symptoms to determine if the tree is infested. Given these challenges, we evaluated if participatory science can still be a good tool to monitor for this pest. Together with the California Naturalist program, we developed a reporting tool in iNaturalist and a six-hour training that included an online course, two workshops, and after-training office hours. We ran two trainings, one fully online and one with an in-person component. We trained 34 volunteers, who collected more than 122 reports of suspected infestations. The accuracy of these reports was evaluated by having trained experts locate and re-assess the reported trees. Trained volunteers were able to locate 1-5 ISHB-infested trees in the field, especially those that were heavily infested. Training modality had a strong effect on data accuracy, with volunteers who received in-person training being more accurate (96% correct ISHB IDs) than the ones who received online training only (85% correct IDs). This study shows that, with adequate training, volunteer data can reliably contribute to the local and state-wide efforts to monitor the presence of this invasive pest.

45.3    The A, Bee, C’s of Native Bees

Krystle Hickman (BeeSip, Theodore Payne Foundation, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arlington Garden and ArtCenter College of Design, Los Angeles, CA, USA)

How can people help native bees if they don’t know native bees?  There are close to 3,000 species in Western North America; 1,643 in California alone.  We know next to nothing about them.

California has so many amazing habitats some of which aren’t found anywhere else in the United States.  It’s also one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.  What is happening ecologically in this state is a reflection of what is happening around the globe; climate change, human development, the collapse of biodiverse ecosystems and so much more.  There are more native bees in the state of California than in countries like Argentina or France.  The number of native bees in California is almost on par with the entire continent of Australia.  Not only that, California has a population of people that are motivated to do progressive environmental actions that aren’t being done elsewhere.  If anyone in this country is going to save the bees it’s going to be the people in California.  How do we start? By becoming community scientists in our own backyards. I’ll take you on my journey to save the bees from backyards to the top of mountains.

45.4    CA Fire Followers: Capturing California’s Pyrodiversity with Community Science and Crowd-Sourced Data

Jose Esparza and Andrea Williams (California Native Plant Society, (Sacramento, CA, USA)), Lizzy Edson (Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, (San Francisco, CA, USA)), Ken-ichi Ueda (iNaturalist, (San Francisco, CA, USA)), and iNaturalist community, (primarily CA, USA))

In 2020, California experienced the largest fire season in recorded history. 2021 also proved to be another disastrous year. Amid an ongoing drought and changing climate, wildfires in California continue to be catastrophic and unprecedented. Although fires can be tremendously traumatic for people, California’s biodiversity is forged in fire. Through this project, we can participate in the recovery after fires together. 

The California Fire Followers project uses community science – production of scientific knowledge by the public that is (i) community-driven and community-controlled, and (ii) characterized by place-based knowledge and social learning, collective action and empowerment – at a large scale unobtainable by other means. For the past year, our project has been collecting post fire observations made within the 2020 fire perimeters on iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a global network of naturalists, community scientists, and biologists contributing biodiversity observations at global scales. Our project used challenges, trainings, outreach, and a network of engaged local partners and super-users who helped generate results at scale. We will present summaries of crowd-sourced data on plants seen before and after fires stratified by fire intensity across much of the 2020 burned landscape; and exciting finds such as new county records and apparent range expansions. This helps us determine which species were impacted by fire and increases our understanding of fire followers, and provides crucial information on species of concern to aid in recovery.

45.5    City Nature Challenge: a competition where biodiversity wins!

Alison Young and Rebecca Johnson (Center for Biodiversity and Community Science, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA), Lila Higgins (Community Science Dept., Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Started in 2016 as a competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the City Nature Challenge (CNC) has grown into an international event, motivating people around the world to find and document wildlife in and around their cities, using biodiversity recording apps and platforms like iNaturalist. Run by the Community Science teams at the California Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the CNC is an annual four-day global urban bioblitz at the end of April, where cities are in a collaboration-meets-friendly-competition to see not only what can be accomplished when we all work toward a common goal, but also which city can gather the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people in the event. In 2022, over 440 cities participated, with more than 67,000 people making 1.7 million observations of 50,000+ species in the four days of the challenge. In California, 17 of the 20 largest cities by population currently participate. Over the 7 years of the CNC, 24,000 California residents and visitors have made more than 563,000 observations of California biodiversity, documenting 11,000 species. In the momentum to protect and steward biodiversity through initiatives like 30×30, community science and events like the CNC are not only an important source of species occurrence records, but are also connecting people to the nature around them and building a community of appreciators, observers, and stewards.

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Giant Sequoia


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Moulton Niguel Water District

White Sage

H.T. Harvey & Associates Ecological Consultants
East Bay Municipal Utility District

Melo Gardens

California Poppy

Westervelt Ecological Services

Carol Witham

Jepson Herbarium
Helix Environmental Planning