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Citizen science blog

3 Posts tagged with the field_training tag
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This week Dr. Della Hopkins tells us about how the Decoding Nature project takes school students out on field trips and involves them in the Museum's science research.

 

In June, a group of ‘scientists in the making’ from Pimlico Academy joined up with a small band of research scientists from the Museum as part of a long running project called Decoding Nature. Decoding Nature is a Museum-run venture which delivers residential science courses to school children aged 8-18.

 

The courses take place at The Old Malthouse School near Wareham in Dorset, and combine learning with original, ongoing scientific research. Over the years the project has evolved and included a wide range of scientists with varied areas of expertise. Each course is different, ensuring that the children are taking part in cutting edge research that will be used for publication.

 

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Amazing lichen communities on Dorset trees - a winning photo from the photography competition. Image credit: Coco from Pimlico.

 

For this particular course our budding scientists from Pimlico Academy were set several tasks, to aid renowned Lichenologist Holger Thues with several important research questions. The week began with an introduction to lichens and a recap on classification and how to use keys, before launching into investigations into the species composition of spice lichens; bags of mixed lichen species sold as cooking ingredients in many Asian supermarkets.

 

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Recording the lichens on coastal trees. Image Credit: Annabel Crookshank, The Old Malthouse.

 

Next we took to the fields to carry out an air quality survey (designed by the OPAL project), using nine target lichen species growing on tree branches to give an indication of pollution levels. Three of these lichens are very sensitive to pollution, three are ‘intermediate’ and the final three are nitrogen-tolerant. The children’s findings were of great interest, showing that the presence of sheep dramatically altered the lichen community, with the nitrogen sensitive species nowhere to be found. Less than a mile away, by the coast, these species were flourishing.

 

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Comparing the lichen species on trees in grazed fields. Image credit: Annabel Crookshank, The Old Malthouse.

 

Once they had honed their lichen-identification skills we headed out to Dancing Ledge, a beautiful area on the coast where the cliffs meet the sea. The students carried out a series of transects to answer questions about the habitat preferences of the coastal lichens, such as whether the rocks were sea- or land-facing, vertical or horizontal, and how close to the sea they were. We made some surprising discoveries, and were able to make some collections to take back to the Natural History Museum.

 

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Making a (permitted!) lichen collection at Dancing Ledge.

 

Finally we used DNA barcoding techniques on a number of European and British samples of the lichen Verrucaria pachyderma. This involved working in the laboratory to extract DNA, and amplify it to a level which could be taken to the museum for the sequences to be read. This was very important work, and great care was needed with the samples. Everyone managed the task superbly, and we were successful in extracting the DNA.

 

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Ready and prepared for DNA extraction.

 

Once we left Dorset, and returned to the museum, the DNA samples were sequenced. Genetic analysis of the lichens collected from Europe show that the British collections may in fact represent an entirely separate species. The next step is to expand the collection range and analyse more genetic markers, but the results so far are already a big surprise and wonderfully exciting.

 

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Holger Thues explaining the different habitat preferences of the lichens. Image credit: Annabel Crookshank, The Old Malthouse.

 

The week was full of games to encourage learning, especially with the more tricky subjects such as DNA barcoding. The children entered each challenge with enthusiasm, whether they were in the lab extracting DNA, or buzzing around the field as worker bees collecting their sand pollen. We also found time to learn about other techniques used by scientists in botany (plants) and entomology (invertebrates).

 

To find out more, visit our Decoding Nature webpage.

You can also find out how to participate in OPAL surveys here.

 

Della Hopkins

 

Dr Della Hopkins has worked at the NHM for 6 years, and has managed the Decoding Nature project for the past 5. She previously worked on seed conservation with the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew. She studied Environmental Biology at Royal Holloway University of London, followed by an MSc in Ecology (Bangor) and her PhD from London investigated heathland conservation and restoration.

 

Della runs the Decoding Nature project with Dr Robert Dyer (molecular laboratory assistant).

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Meet the citizen science team

Posted by JadeLauren Jan 25, 2015

Meet the Museum's core citizen science team. First up, it's Lucy:

 

Lucy Robinson

Citizen Science Programme Manager

 

"Hello! As Programme Manager, I oversee all of the Museum's citizen science activities. My role is to update and promote our existing projects, and to work with our researchers, curators and public engagement staff to develop exciting new projects that support the Museum's scientific research.

 

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Lucy Robinson, worm charming for the OPAL soil and earthworm survey.

 

A key element of the citizen science programme is to support other citizen science practitioners to develop their own projects. We do this by producing knowledge exchange guides and publications, and I regularly represent the Museum at national and international citizen science conferences. I am a member of the global Citizen Science Association and the European Citizen Science Association, within which I lead a working group that aims to share best practice and build capacity in citizen science across Europe.

 

I've been working at the Museum in the field of citizen science for 7 years now, initially on the Big Lottery Funded OPAL project, and now as the Museum's programme manager. I love being at the interface of science research and public engagement, and am fortunate that my job means I'm working alongside world-class researchers. Over the past 7 years I've worked on citizen science projects studying earthworms, lichens, seaweeds, urban invertebrates, microorganisms and many other areas of biodiversity, and I love this variety in my role."

 

Jade Lauren Cawthray

Citizen Science Project Officer

 

"As Citizen Science Project Officer I am responsible for setting up and running citizen science projects here at the Museum. I work with staff from across the Museum, to define a research question, develop the data collection method, produce the resources that support participants in collecting and analysing the data, and communicate the results at the end of the project.

 

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Jade collecting leaf samples in the Bialowieza Forest, Poland.

 

Really important to furthering our work in citizen science is my role in advocating and communicating citizen science and the projects that we run. Not only do we need to communicate to the public what projects they can contribute to and how they might benefit from getting involved, but we also need to demonstrate to research scientists how working with citizen scientists can support them in fulfilling their research ambitions.

 

As both an ecologist and a science communicator, I combine knowledge from both fields to developing public engagement opportunities that support people in engaging with and better understanding nature.

 

I started working at the Museum nearly 3 years ago as a Science Educator, delivering the Museum’s learning offer to school and family groups. I then joined the citizen science team in August 2014."

 

John Tweddle

Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity

 

"With a background in palaeoecology, I - like Lucy - also worked on the OPAL citizen science programme for many years as OPAL Project Manager. That time was spent developing and delivering new citizen science projects as well as coordinating the taxonomy, public events and exhibitions, and voluntary natural history societies aspects of the OPAL programme.

 

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John teaching identification skills to Cubs, out in the field.

 

I subsequently left my role in OPAL to become Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC). The AMC forms a hub for partnership-based UK natural history engagement, training and research, and provides a focus for the Museum’s citizen science programme. Our mission is to inspire and support the development of existing and future naturalists.

 

Projects range from citizen science surveys, to answering public identification enquiries, provision of wildlife identification resources and training, and research into critical aspects of the UK’s biodiversity.

 

The AMC also acts as a free drop in resource centre where UK natural history enthusiasts of all abilities can further their interest by accessing UK reference collections, library materials, microscopes and expertise.

 

I am a founding Steering Committee member for the global Citizen Science Association and a member of the British Ecological Society Citizen Science Special Interest Group."

 

So, that's a quick introduction to each of us. In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to our latest citizen project... see you there.

 

Jade Lauren

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Welcome to the Museum's new blog about citizen science! Before we get started, we should probably give you a quick outline of what citizen science actually is... here's a snippet from our official blurb:

 

'...the involvement of volunteers in scientific projects that contribute to expanding our knowledge of the natural world, through the systematic collection, analysis or interpretation of environmental observations.'

 

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Cubs learning about British natural history from one of the Museum’s experts at a Big Nature Day event in our Wildlife Garden.

 

And here it is in a little bit more depth... It's at its essence a type of volunteering for the Museum that absolutely anyone can get involved with. Each of our citizen science projects have a specific scientific goal and a flexible approach to participation - you can take part at a time that suits you, at a location of your choice, and either with your friends and family or on your own.

 

Anyone can take part in our projects and we have and have had a wide variety to suit any interest: our current projects include collecting samples of microorganisms for DNA analysis, reporting stranded whales and dolphins, transcribing hand-written registers that detail the Museum's collections, or recording observations of bluebells, orchids, seaweeds or invertebrates.

 

You can find out more about how to take part in our projects here and - of course - by following our new blog where we intend to show you what happens behind-the-scenes and what happens next when you have submitted your data to us.

 

Over the next few posts we'll introduce you to the team and, from that point on, we'll be sharing regular updates and news of exciting developments. We hope you feel inspired to take part and contribute to the Museum's scientific research!

 

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Naturalists sorting and identifying specimens in the field.