Indianapolis is enlisting its residents to help count bees, butterflies and other bugs as part of a crowdsourcing science initiative. The “City-Wide Pollinator Count” aims to tell scientists more about where the bees are…and aren’t.
Crowdsourcing data has proved a valuable tool for scientists. Initiatives such as the Great World Wide Star Count and Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Backyard Bird Count catalog information scientists would otherwise never be able to access.
According to Purdue agronomy professor Ronald Turco, so-called "citizen science" can be extremely cost-effective and helpful for scientists. He’s one of the researchers involved in the Wabash River Sampling Blitz, a twice-yearly effort in which volunteers collect and analyze water from the Wabash River.
“It is a very difficult process to collect 200 or 300 samples in an afternoon if you’re doing it with your lab group,” he said. “It’s nearly impossible especially if you want to look at a distribution of locations.”
The pollinator count is organized by the nonprofit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, which works on hundreds of city beautification projects a year.
Here’s how it works: Participants can go online and download a pollinator “roll call” sheet or pick one up at a local library. Then, he or she will measure out an 11-by-11 inch space and count every wasp, bee or butterfly in the square. Finally, they’ll submit the information into the group’s online database.
Spokeswoman Ashlee Fujawa explains the organization will use the information from the count to make green spaces more bee-friendly.
“That’s going to help us look at what those pollinators are interested in and then what we need to be planting in neighborhoods where we’re not seeing pollinators,” Fujawa said.
Both Fujawa and Turco agree crowd-sourcing not only arms researchers with useful data, it builds bridges between residents and the sometimes-opaque scientific community.
“It allows us to engage in the community in terms of with questions they might have…about what we do about what the science of this thing is all about,” said Turco. “That’s really the part that’s good in terms of conveying the scientific process.”
Fujawa also said she’s happy to see people enjoying their neighborhood green spaces.
“For us it was not only a way to get people outside but to get people interacting with nature,” she said.
Fujawa said organization has banked 100 submissions in its database.