Pioneer Valley Mammal Citizen Science project seeks volunteers 

  • A volunteer’s photo of a black bear submitted to the Pioneer Valley Mammal Citizen Science project at Amherst College. Photo by Betsy Bizarro 

  • A volunteer’s photo of a red fox submitted to the Pioneer Valley Mammal Citizen Science project at Amherst College. Photo by Betsy Bizarro   

Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2020 3:07:03 PM
Modified: 7/9/2020 3:06:53 PM

Residents across western Massachusetts are invited to take part in a citizen science study that aims to track the population density and distribution of mammals in the Pioneer Valley.

The Pioneer Valley Mammal Citizen Science project is spearheaded by the Amherst College biology department and undergraduate students at the college. The collaborative project allows members of the public to volunteer by sharing video or photos of local wildlife to better understand the mammal populations locally.

“That’s one of the most interesting aspects of citizen science — to have the public be able to contribute,” said Thea Kristensen, a biology professor and laboratory coordinator at Amherst College, who is shepherding the project. “I think it’s been really exciting for all of the students in the project as well to be able to draw those connections between people who live in the area, the science that we’re studying and be able to see that we can all be contributing.”

Kristensen said the group started with MassBears, a project focused on understanding the distribution of black bears in the area, before launching the mammal project to complement the bear study.

Ainsley Mackenzie, a 20-year-old junior at Amherst College who is a native of Connecticut, said the information gained from members of the public volunteering for the project is essential to their research. The group hopes to examine the density of the mammal population in rural and urban areas.

“It’s a unique opportunity for citizens to actually take part in real scientific research,” Mackenzie said. “I think especially right now in quarantine, a lot of people are not able to go to places and want to be in nature. I think that the project is definitely an interesting way to be engaged and do those things.”

Area residents interested in participating can find a volunteer form at the project’s website. Volunteers can collect data on mammals in western Massachusetts by being a spotter (using the Trails – Outdoor GPS Logbook app to record the type of animal and its location, as well as to upload photos) or by volunteering with the black bears study, according to the project website. Some examples of mammals included in the study include foxes, moose and coyotes. 

“You can also identify animals via their tracks, so we have information on the website about that as well,” said Rachel Lovejoy, a soon-to-be sophomore at Amherst College who is also working on the project.

Mackenzie said the group has already received volunteer submissions from community members.

Right now, the project is focused on the Pioneer Valley, but Kristensen said over time the mammal citizen science study could expand across the state.

Mackenzie said she hopes the project will continue over the course of several years to help better understand mammal population trends.

“It’s really beneficial if you have more long-term data because it helps us understand how populations are changing over time instead of getting little screenshots of year to year,” Mackenzie said. “I think it would be beneficial to have it go more long term and see where it would take us and where the data can go with that.”

For more information about the project, visit citscima.wordpress.amherst.edu. To learn more about MassBears visit massbears.wordpress.amherst.edu.

 Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

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