Citizen Scientists Outsmart Invasives

Citizen Scientists Outsmart Invasives

Outsmart is a smartphone application developed by collaborative efforts of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia. This application aims to connect the public with detailed information about invasive plants and animals in their area. The ultimate goal is these citizen scientists strengthening ongoing  monitoring invasive species monitoring efforts by educating them on what to look for and allowing them to submit their data via the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS) website.

The growth and popularity of smartphone technology has provided the opportunity to put sophisticated data collection tools in the hands of many more citizen scientists. Smartphone applications, apps, are convenient and increasingly practical for acquisition of data from all over the globe and at a minimal cost. This application will improve monitoring and management abilities by adding real-time, practical data to aid invasive species control and removal projects being conducted by agencies, communities and firms.

These screenshots from the application illustrate the tools provided to educate citizen scientist on identification of invasive species and to upload to data to the mapping website.

These screenshots from the application illustrate the tools provided to educate citizen scientist on identification of invasive species and to upload to data to the mapping website.

Invasive species monitoring is an area of environmental monitoring and management where assistance from citizen scientists can be incredibly effective. Once established, invasive species can be nearly impossible to eradicate and difficult to control. So when the collaborative research team from UMass Amherst, DCR and University of Georgia identified “Monitoring programs aimed at detecting low-density ‘founder’ populations can play a critical role in slowing or even stopping the spread of harmful invasive species by identifying recently established populations that can be targeted for control and/or eradication”, creating an app to put tools in the hands of the public was the logical next step for adding millions of boots on ground. The one stumbling block to the implementation of this program was training citizen scientists all over the country without the help of the tried and true “in-person” training paradigm.

They explored 3 possible solutions to the training conundrum 1) in-person, 2) app-based video, and 3) app-based text/images in the context of invasive plant identification in Massachusetts. This research yielded encouraging results;participants who received video training were as successful at invasive plant identification as those trained in-person. And so app-based training videos and image and text identification steps were built into the Outsmart application.

For more information about the Outsmart application visit the project website http://masswoods.net/outsmart. Download the application to your smartphone today and start contributing to controlling and eradicating invasive species in your area!

 

Jared Starr, Charles M. Schweik, Nathan Bush, Lena Fletcher, Jack Finn, Jennifer Fish,Charles T. Bargeron “Lights, Camera…Citizen Science: Assessing the Effectiveness of Smartphone-Based Video Training in Invasive Plant Identification,”  Published: November 05, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111433