Conservation Needs Natural History Participatory Science

▹ EwA’s participatory science model presented at ICCB 2023 (SCB’s 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology)

Authors: Claire O’Neill, Jennifer Clifford, Kathy McGlathery | Earthwise Aware

🔗 Presentation | 📰 Handout

An Essential Practice to Empower Communities and Help & Guide Science

Earthwise Aware (EwA) implements “next generation” (data-driven) natural history to foster wide public engagement while advancing biodiversity and climate research. EwA’s participatory science program enables community-based conservation action.

EwA’s model embraces a democratic approach where naturalists, experts, scientists, and trained volunteers (participatory scientists) work together to

  • Connect the public to its immediate environment;
  • Document biodiversity, natural systems, and phenology in the Greater Boston area;
  • Integrate and augment existing participatory science efforts;
  • Initiate projects and develop protocols to fill ecological gaps. 

EwA’s model goes beyond contributing data to existing projects in that the community co-creates opportunities and initiates projects when necessary. The data collected directly serves EwA’s conservation projects as well as local and national scientific efforts.

The result is a rich place-based natural history that helps understand the impact of land use and climate change on urban natural habitats. 

Wind turbines standing on a grassy plain, against a blue sky.

🔎 EwA Biodiversity & Climate Program Highlights

Our local communities get a first-hand experience of nature conservation (at home) through EwA’s participatory science program. EwA sponsors ecological projects by training community volunteers to collect detailed quality climate and ecosystem data at several established urban natural spaces in Greater Boston.

EwA’s field studies include:

  • Phenology of local plant, bird, and amphibian species
  • Arthropod abundance and activity survey
  • Plant–arthropod association survey
  • Bird monitoring
  • Invasive species and pest monitoring 
  • Biodiversity mapping
  • Habitat assessment: natural community, habitat fragmentation, and park usage mapping
  • Biological pollution (e.g., dog waste) documentation
  • Vernal pool documentation and certification.

EwA encourages its community of volunteers to contribute at all levels of the research process. EwA participatory science activities include Original research; data collection, curation, aggregation, and analysis; developing training material, field guides, and resources; Writing domain-focused digests and comprehensive project reports. The community is also fully engaged in the mentoring of EwA’s interns.

Best Practices

The EwA model is a reference for other organizations looking to implement best practices because it is supported by the following core principles:

  • Cultivate a democratic natural history community that invites its participants to innovate and co-create ecological knowledge;
  • Enable critical thinking – use experience, science, and ethics to further the discussion;
  • Foster systems thinking – embrace complexity to better understand complex natural systems;
  • Build continuous social action and ecological impact to foster environmental and organizational resilience.

EwA Impact Example

Eyes in the Field–Keeping a Forest Whole (📹 Video): Mid-February 2023, EwA participatory scientists and naturalists spotted the first marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) larva since 1932 in a forest that they document and protect. This discovery illustrates the importance of engaging local community members to observe and record biodiversity in urban areas, as well as their impact in the field of conservation science and advocacy.

Since 2021, EwA conservationists have documented habitat conditions in the Fells to scientifically quantify and qualify recreation usage impact on the fauna, flora, and critical habitats and to mitigate further damage. The project’s multi-dimensional approach synthesizes data from EwA’s participatory science programs, such as park usage surveys, biological pollution surveys, informal trail assessments, natural community descriptions, and vernal pool documentation with existing data from governmental organizations and third parties. From this data, EwA has developed interactive mapping tools using geographic information systems (GIS) that land managers and stakeholders can use to inform conservation actions.

People Power: People-Driven Participatory Science

EwA’s style of grassroots natural history community brings a new voice to the conservation world, uniquely positioned to advocate on behalf of local ecosystems and complement the viewpoints of professional and governmental sciences.

🔗 Presentationfull/flash | 📰 Handout | 🌟 Explore EwA’s Biodiversity & Climate P*Sci Program

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