Volume 75, Issue 1, 2021
Special issue: Community and citizen science
Data parties engage 4-H volunteers in data interpretation, strengthening camp programs and evaluation process
Participatory evaluation is a form of citizen science that brings program stakeholders into partnership with researchers to increase the understanding and value that evaluation provides. For the last four years, 4-H volunteers and staff have joined academics to assess the impact of the California 4-H camping program on youth and teen leaders in areas such as responsibility, confidence and leadership. Volunteers and nonacademic staff in the field informed the design of this multiyear impact study, collected data and engaged in data interpretation through “data parties.” In a follow-up evaluation of the data parties, we found that those who participated reported deeper understanding of and buy-in to the data. Participants also provided the research team insights into findings. By detailing the California 4-H Camp Evaluation case study, this paper describes the mutual benefits that accrue to researchers and volunteers when, through data parties, they investigate findings together.
Climate change is leading to habitat shifts that threaten species persistence throughout California’s unique ecosystems. Baseline biodiversity data would provide opportunities for habitats to be managed under short-term and long-term environmental change. Aiming to provide biodiversity data, the UC Conservation Genomics Consortium launched the California Environmental DNA (CALeDNA) program to be a citizen and community science biomonitoring initiative that uses environmental DNA (eDNA, DNA shed from organisms such as from fur, feces, spores, pollen or leaves). Now with results from 1,000 samples shared online, California biodiversity patterns are discoverable. Soil, sediment and water collected by researchers, undergraduates and the public reveal a new catalog of thousands of organisms that only slightly overlap with traditional survey bioinventories. The CALeDNA website lets users explore the taxonomic diversity in different ways, and researchers have created tools to help people new to eDNA to analyze community ecology patterns. Although eDNA results are not always precise, the program team is making progress to fit it into California’s biodiversity management toolbox, such as for monitoring ecosystem recovery after invasive species removal or wildfire.
Youth participants in 4-H animal science projects are involved extensively with raising and exhibiting agricultural animals, often on backyard farms (Smith and Meehan 2012). Since backyard farms can serve as sources and vectors of pathogens (FAO 1999; WHO 2011), it is critical that 4-H youth take an active role in preventing the introduction and spread of economically important animal diseases. Fifteen 4-H youth from two counties in California participated in the 4-H Bio-Security Proficiencies Program, a long-term community and citizen science project focused on animal and zoonotic disease risk education and mitigation. Then, in the role of community science experts, they acted upon the risk assessments and mitigation plans they had developed to improve biosecurity practices and reduce the likelihood of disease spread on their home premises and at their local county fair. They also extended their knowledge to the broader livestock exhibition community through outreach videos.
The introduction of nonnative invasive pests is among the many threats facing coastal ecosystems worldwide. Managing these pests often requires considerable effort and resources, and community scientists can be essential for providing the capacity needed for management and monitoring activities. In response to the invasion of a Northern California estuary by the predatory European green crab, a collaborative team of academic researchers and community scientists initiated a local eradication program. The green crab is listed among the world’s 100 worst invaders, and threatened both native species and commercial shellfisheries. The program dramatically reduced the green crab population over a 5-year period, but it rebounded, which necessitated a switch in project goals from eradication to population suppression. Community scientists were essential for facilitating this switch by providing the necessary capacity to quantify population characteristics and maintain reduced crab populations. The result was a sustainable program that successfully maintained low green crab densities, which will likely improve habitat for native species.
News and Opinion
Community and citizen science fosters an appreciation for the scientific process, building scientific literacy and public support for research.
In this special issue, California Agriculture presents research and news on community and citizen science projects across California.
The authors uncovered a rich diversity of projects that engage Californians in UC ANR research, and a variety of challenges and opportunities for expanding this work. News: Report: Assessing community and citizen science at UC ANR. Issue: 7501 Calif Agr. https://doi.org/10.3733/ca.2021a0004
What do coyotes, eggs and leafy greens have in common? They’re all subjects of UC ANR research projects to which everyday Californians have contributed.