Giving power to the people to understand the ecology of the Fells, and participate in the active protection of this unique landscape.
EwA Biobliss Project —Nature Enthusiasts Welcome!
We had such a busy summer, spending countless hours in a local woodland some 15 minutes away from where I reside in Somerville: the Middlesex Fells Reservation (a.k.a. the Fells)!
The various habitats and species biodiversity of the Fells are rather understudied scientifically. As well as a good natural history of the forest is lacking (i.e., solid and continuous monitoring of the habitats over time). Why is it so that the Fells is scientifically neglected? Lack of interest, lack of funding, lack of human resources… We don’t know really. But for sure, a few of the implications is that it leaves the Fells at the mercy of over-development and over-use (habitat degradation). Additionally, we miss the important opportunity to monitor the effect of climate change, and invasive species in the region.
Given that awareness about the Fells’ biodiversity is weak, and that science data is sparse, let’s then use citizen science to remediate to that! We started the Fells’ Biobliss program back in June —a program that we run in collaboration with the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation☆.
Our mission is simple: Give power to the people to understand the ecology of the Fells, and participate in the active protection of this unique landscape. The program gets nature enthusiasts and volunteers to data-collects relevant species and habitat biodiversity observations over time. It fosters a fundamental understanding of ecology, phenology, and ethics. It helps science and wildlife conservation advocacy.
Three months later, here we are: With the help of local scientists, experts(*) and dedicated nature enthusiasts, we finally completed the very involved work of setting up study sites throughout the Fells to investigate plant and animal communities (i.e., community assessment and species richness), including their seasonal changes (a.k.a. phenology).
We are now fully ready to start the next phase of this program and get enthusiastic Fells users (regular or occasional) to help us collect important and continuous data about key animals, plant species, and habitats that make the Fells what it is: an urban woodland that is an incredible oasis for our local and migrant biodiversity.
You love Nature and want to learn new things? You want to help science and the environment? You want to help protect our local Nature habitats?… Well then, the EwA Biobliss project is for you!
To participate you don’t need prior knowledge. With us, you’ll gain a substantial ecology and biodiversity foundational knowledge, and we’ll coach you about how to collect data (and the methods behind them). You’ll also be able to visualize the data you help collect over time.
This is a great opportunity to be part of something ‘Big’, and to join a growing community of citizen scientists worldwide! This is set up to be a long-term program, designed both to raise ecological awareness, as well as to help the scientific community understand the impact of climate change, the impact of invasive species, and the local health of wetland and forest habitats. The data collected will also help Fells advocates and all the users of the Fells who wish to protect it. Along the way, the knowledge gained is invaluable to all who attend.
Knowledge is power! And this Citizen Science project is all about that.
We are happy to have you participating in this project! Just come, and we’ll take it from there 🙂
Since we started working on the project, we have spent about 137 hrs (number of participants * number of hours) in the Fells. We have established 8 study sites: 5 phenology sites, 2 plant community assessment sites, and 1 site dedicated to species richness.
The phenology sites (which record seasonal changes) include high forest grounds, wetland areas with the monitoring of both a permanent pond and a vernal pool. The plant community assessment sites will be monitored about once a season. General species richness recording will happen regularly over the year. Additionally, this coming spring, we will track vernal pools throughout the Fells and certify those that are not already certified.
Some of the recording plateforms that we use include iNaturalist (for biodiversity mapping) and Nature’s Notebook for the recording of phenology observations.
Already, we collected and uploaded close to 800 observations of some 359 distinct species, on the EwA at the Fells iNaturalist project, since we started roaming the forest late Spring.
We are finishing the setup of the phenology sites, and soon we’ll publish our data sheet templates accessible to the participants who want to also collect data on their own. We will open a sharing system for uploading the filled data sheet, for those who do not wish to go through Nature’s Notebook data upload protocol (we’ll take upon uploading those data).
Plant community assessments are done following the MA Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Wetlands and Waterways protocol. And Vernal Pool Certification will follow the NHESP’s Guidelines for the Certification of Vernal Pool Habitat protocol. The certification information will then be submitted through the Vernal Pool & Rare Species (VPRS) Information System.
Now, let’s do some science together!
(*) We thank Dr. Bryan Hamlin and Harvard botanist Walter Kittredge who helped us select a few sites, and who are teaching us so much about the Fells plant community! We thank Matt Gage and Joe Martinez —Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology herpetologists— who are helping us set up the Vernal pool program and who share with us their love and enthusiasm for reptiles and amphibians. We thank Shilpa Sen our EwA wetland ecologist for her invaluable knowledge and help, and we thank the many experts and volunteers who provided feedback along the way about the program concepts and protocols to use.
About The Friends of the Fells. The organization is dedicated to the protection and harmonious use of the Fells, promoting awareness, policies, and programs which honor and preserve the landscape and heritage of the 3,400 acres Middlesex Fells Reservation for current and future generations. The Fells is a gorgeous State Park managed by the DCR. And the Friends of the Fells –who protects this gem diligently– is a truly inspiring organization. Check them out!
August 24th, 2018
The photos in this article are pictures of species observed in the Fells, and the property of their authors (EwA citizen scientists and Fells enthusiasts), and directly linked to their sources. The banner photo is a banded longhorn and the courtesy of © Joseph Mac Indewar (iNat Research Grade Record).
Claire is the founder of Earthwise Aware, which focuses on developing individual and organizational ethics with respect to ecology and biodiversity. She strongly believes that individually and altogether we can be ethically & ecologically engaged –whoever we are, whatever we do and wherever we are.
Ethical Nature conservation is not circumstantial, it is a mindset that you acquire. Once on that path, a great many rewards for us become obvious. And the satisfaction out of practicing good ethics is almost addictive. There is no looking back...
Her favorite words: “Earthwise Aware — Because I Care!”
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