Equipping Citizen Scientists to Help Extend a Research Area
Program Coordinator at University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
Haley Andreozzi is a wildlife biologist and the Wildlife Outreach Program Manager at UNH (University of New Hampshire) Cooperative Extension. The outreach arm of the University, Cooperative Extension provides research-based information and non-formal education programs to individuals and communities in New Hampshire. Andreozzi teamed up with researchers from UNH’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment to assist in a project to monitor conservation efforts for an endangered species of rabbit, the New England Cottontail.
For the past ten years, habitat management projects have been implemented in southern New Hampshire to work towards conservation and restoration of the New England Cottontail. Loss of the rabbit’s shrubland habitat, mostly to make way for housing and other development, is to blame for the decline in population - there are currently less than 100 individual rabbits in New Hampshire. To support the project, Andreozzi turned to a fleet of volunteers and a mobile app called Avenza Maps Pro.
The area under study is about 300 acres of relatively remote shrubland in southern New Hampshire - a very large area for the small UNH research team to cover alone. So, Andreozzi enlisted a group of citizen scientists and trained and equipped them with Avenza Maps Pro.
Andreozzi marks random data collection points on a georeferenced PDF map and then emails the maps to the volunteers. The volunteers load the maps into Avenza Maps Pro on their mobile devices and navigate to the specified locations to record specific data that are required for the study. The volunteers cover 16 different sites, and each volunteer is assigned a separate site. “This was an important part of the process as it allowed us to do truly randomized sampling without the bias of samplers who may inadvertently avoid obstacles and difficult to reach places,.’ says Andreozzi, “Volunteers are safer because they are able to navigate and locate themselves on the map.”
“This was an important part of the process as it allowed us to do truly randomized sampling without the bias of samplers who may inadvertently avoid obstacles and difficult to reach places,.’ says Andreozzi, “Volunteers are safer because they are able to navigate and locate themselves on the map.”
“Training the volunteers to use the app was relatively easy. The biggest challenge for me was understanding the full potential of Avenza Maps. Once I determined what I wanted the volunteers to do with the app, I mirrored my screen and walked through the steps. Then, we went outside to do a test survey.”
Having a mobile tool that included the ability to import maps, and allowed the volunteers using it to navigate off-trail was really helpful. “Using the app improved the ability of the volunteers to contribute to valuable research about rabbit habitat,” says Andreozzi, “and having the additional data collected by the volunteers will allow the researchers to extrapolate results across the landscape, expanding the geographic reach of the study.’