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Monday, September 25, 2017

Six seasons of amphibian monitoring with citizen science

Posted by Jenny Mears, Education

Note from the editor: There’s a world teeming below your feet in the Washington wetlands, a world we’re just beginning to document with the help of volunteers through the Amphibian Monitoring Program, a Living Northwest citizen science project. Amphibian Monitoring is offered through Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest program, in partnership with Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), Northwest Trek, and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Going on the sixth year of this citizen science effort, volunteers work in teams to survey ponds and wetlands in King and Snohomish Counties.
An Amphibian Monitoring volunteer surveys Magnuson Park for egg masses with her team, which is comprised of ZooCorps teen volunteers. Photo by Lyra Dalton, WPZ staff
The sixth season of Amphibian Monitoring has come to an end, and Woodland Park Zoo’s citizen science program has much to celebrate:
  • A successful transition to iNaturalist, a user-friendly network for sharing biodiversity observations that connect wildlife enthusiasts around the world.
  • Over 75 Woodland Park Zoo volunteers on 12 monitoring teams who surveyed their chosen site once a month from February through the summer months, contributing over 400 hours!
  • Over 200 observations of nine different amphibian species submitted to our Amphibians of Washington project page on iNaturalist. These observations provide Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) biologists with critical observation data that could help inform amphibian and wetland conservation in light of increasing development and climate change pressures.

Rough-skinned newt observed near Redmond Watershed Preserve by iNaturalist user daval
In this program, participants are trained by Woodland Park Zoo and WDFW staff on how to find and identify local amphibians in a way that’s safe for people, wildlife, and habitats. Volunteers form teams choose a local wetland or pond and monitor their site once a monthrecording data and taking photos of any amphibians they see. Thanks in part to a Watchable Wildlife contract with WDFW, teams even have access to monitoring tools, including hip waders, aquascopes, digital cameras, and GPS units!

Pacific tree frog observed at Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve, a site owned by Forterra, by iNaturalist user activatedk and her team
In addition to providing much-needed data on amphibian populations to WDFW, this program also furthers the zoo’s mission by providing volunteers with opportunities for increased knowledge and appreciation for amphibians and their wetland habitats, as well as the skills to do relevant, hands-on scientific data collection. For the past three years, 100% of respondents reported an increased interest in and appreciation for amphibians and their wetland habitats on the end-of-season evaluations. Additionally, for the past three years, 100% of respondents reported that they’d be likely or very likely to participate in the next season of Amphibian Monitoring.

Amphibian Monitoring volunteers also show their dedication to the program in other ways, including through poetry! As part of a team engagement contest, a team comprised of Master Naturalists with the City of Bellevue wrote the following poem during breeding season:

Froggie Love
By Bellevue Master Naturalists

Even in this cold and beastly winter
The amphibians take time for froggie love 
Leaving jellied eggs below the surface
Of a pond that sedges poke above.

Clouds are partly lifting, so the humans
Risking brisky air and pending pour,
Wearing clunky boots and draped in cameras,
Gently wade in shallows at the shore.

Peering at the surface clear or murky
Slipping plastic sheet a tad beneath
They examine, they explore and part the waters
Checking under stalks and fallen leaf.

“I think I found one!” Much elated, shows the others
Cloudy purse with round black eggs, count five or six
Well-adhering to the stalk of old emergent
“Must be chorus frog,” they murmur, “Take a pic.”

The volunteer with camera snaps a photo,
Calls out the hue of eggs, the size of mass
And on the shore, the data are recorded,
With date and time and waypoint GPS.

Which organism is the more triumphant
Is it salamander, frog or newt
Whose reproductive talent has been proven?
Or the nature-hounds in data’s hot pursuit?

Red-legged frog egg mass observed at Lewis Creek Park by a team of Bellevue Master Naturalists.
Long-time naturalists who found iNaturalist through Amphibian Monitoring have also been quick to sing its praises after uploading wildlife photos they’ve taken around the world. Says iNaturalist user tuoichen: “I am so happy to have been introduced to iNaturalist via Woodland Park Zoo.  What a fun and powerful forum! I have been posting old observations from Axel Heiberg Island in the far north of the Canadian Arctic which have been picked up right away by iNaturalist projects ‘Birds of the World’ and ‘Terrestrial Life Forms of Nunavut.’  I figured that Axel Heiberg is so remote that it will not be that easy to come by observations from there.  It's great to have a forum where anyone can chip in her or his bit.”

Muskoxen on Alex Heiberg Island: one of many wildlife images from around the world shared on iNaturalist by user tuoichen
Another amphibian Monitoring citizen scientist, conwaysuz, is excited about using iNaturalist to enhance another organization she volunteers for:  “I'm hooked on iNaturalist! I volunteer out at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. There are just a couple observations from the park so I'm going to see if we can start advertising this community and the phone app—park visitors will LOVE this.”

Interested in participating in our 2018 Amphibian Monitoring season? 
Please see www.zoo.org/citizenscience for more information and sign up on our interest list. 

See you in the field!


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