The data collected by local bird banders (above) is logged (center photo) and recorded to help experts monitor avian migration patterns. Right, Michigan Sea Grant’s Dan O’Keefe explains to anglers how the fin clip on the marked salmon they catch provides valuable information that guides fish stocking programs in Lake Michigan.
The data can influence the way the lake is stocked so the predator-prey balance stays in homeostasis and Lake Michigan doesn’t experience the same type of imbalance Lake Huron did in 2003 and 2004, when its Chinook salmon population crashed. “Research has found that if we were to keep stocking the same amount of salmon in Lake Michigan as we were a couple of years ago, there would be a 20 percent chance of crashing the fisheries,” O’Keefe says. After collecting data by way of a survey sent to local residents, the program leaders decreased salmon stocking by 50 percent. They then had to come up with a way to monitor the results. This year the Sea Grant program tagged every single farmed fish with an adipose fin clip, indicating that the fish has a microscopic identifier in its snout. Anglers need only look for the clip, measure the fish, note where they caught it and take its head to a dropoff site. With the information gathered, Sea Grant leaders will know where stocking is most effective and what the wild salmon population looks like in comparison to the farmed population. “People assume that the fish they catch are stocked nearby,” O’Keefe says. “Thanks to this type of data, we know that’s not true. A lot of fish are wild, and some stocked fish come
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from up north. If we can find out what places rely on local stocking, we’ll be able to stock more effectively.” With projects like the Salmon Ambassador Program, scientists take advantage of citizens out in the field, asking them to add a couple of extra steps to their normal activities. But sometimes the activities themselves inspire science, instead of the other way around.
Candid camera Remote trail cameras, which are used to help hunters scout locations, take pictures of animals passing by, using a motion detector to trip the shutter. The cameras are meant to track possible prey, but they’ve had an unintended effect on science. Adam Bump, a bear and furbearer specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, explains that as camera technology has advanced, the simplest forms of the cameras have become very affordable, and more cameras now populate the woods, marshes and wetlands of Michigan. As a result, hunters have started writing to the DNR asking for identification of the critters caught on camera. “In order to get detailed information that is scientifically valuable and tells you something meaningful, you have to control for all of the variables,” Bump explains. “We
haven’t figured out a way to do that with trail cameras yet, but we have started to use these pictures as presence and absence information, letting scientists know where certain animals might reside.” Trail cameras are catching pictures of bobcats, beavers, bears, deer and even cougars (in the Upper Peninsula), and although the photos might not provide usable research data, Bump says the scientific community is looking for a way to make trail cameras a bigger part of the picture. Until then, some photos help establish a presence of a species where scientists thought there were none, such as photos that caught cougars in the Marquette area, putting scientists on the trail of wide-ranging big cats. Finding a way to take data that citizens are already collecting, such as photo evidence and anecdotal discoveries, and translating that data into scientifically sound samples presents a challenge, but so does asking citizens to collect data they would not normally collect, as in the case of organizations that seek citizens to help determine the effects of everyday products on their lives.
Indoor research The Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health (MNCEH), based in Ann
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