NEWCOMB — If you’ve got a knack for the natural world and delight in stomping through bogs during mud season, then local scientists have a job for you:
How does citizen scientist sound?
Scientists at Paul Smith’s College and the Adirondack Interpretive Center need your input as part of their wetland monitoring program, the central goal of which is to gather phenology data — or intel on the timing in biological events — for wetlands throughout the park.
“Wetlands really are the cradles throughout the region,” said John Sheehan, a representative of the Adirondack Council, a wilderness advocacy group.
Sheehan said wetlands are a nursery for wildlife because they are primary points for creatures to obtain water; they’re a breeding habitat and important for flood control because they absorb runoff from storms.
“Large wetlands are also really excellent bird habitats,” said Sheehan. “The number of species that can live in a wetland expands exponentially past 50 acres. The Adirondacks hosts a wide variety of wildlife species that don’t have homes anywhere else.”
About 260 species call the park their home, 170 of which breed here.
Center for Adirondack Biodiversity Director David Patrick, one of the scientists who is spearheading the project from the brain trust at Paul Smith’s College, said it’s important to keep track of changes in wetlands over space and time.
Subtle changes in phenology are signs that wetlands may be threatened by climate change in the future, he said.
There are not enough scientists to monitor these small, almost imperceptible changes, which is why they need to equip a team of citizen scientists who have intimate knowledge of the surroundings of where they live and work.
“This is a great opportunity to work together and figure out if we should be worried,” he said.
One sign that something is amiss in the natural world is when biological changes occur at different times during the year.
Take migratory spring birds who need insect larvae for food, for example. Their nesting time is tied to the peak time when food is available, said Patrick. But not everything is occurring at same time each year — like the annual snow melt paired with the subsequent flowering — a phenomenon that Patrick refers to as “decoupling.”
As a result of the decline in nesting time, chicks are born to a landscape in which no food is yet available.
“We see these changes over prolonged periods of time,” said Patrick. “Long term monitoring will allow us to answer questions about averages.”
Another example is bogs, the area in which scientists will start their fledgling citizen scientists at the first pair of workshops on Saturday, April 19.
Patrick said the region is on the southern edge of the bog belt. Organisms are tied to a particular habitat and occur further south for a reason. As such, they respond more quickly to climate change, like the gray jays that are in the process of being pushed out due to climate change.
It will be the job of the citizen scientists to go out around these bogs, some of which were previously closed to the public, and make inspections.
Sometimes they’ll be joined by professionals with intensive equipment.
Patrick said he envisions the project as a community-oriented effort designed to build bridges between the scientific community and the general public with the hopeful outcome of generating better strategies to understand and preserve the natural resources and ecosystems that all park residents rely on.
“We’ll be keeping these ethos as we move forward,” he said.
Join your neighbors at the first wetland detectives training workshop on Saturday, April 19 at 9am at the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb or at 2pm at the Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center. While the first round is geared towards frogs and toads, the second round, slated to be held on Saturday, May 17, will focus on birds and plants.
Photo by Samouel Beguin