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Readers can be citizen scientists from their laptops

Ever dream of being a scientist but don’t want to earn a Ph.D.? Or maybe you don’t look good in a long white lab coat with safety glasses?

Now local residents can contribute to science and not have to defend a dissertation.

Expected to launch in January on www.zooniverse.org, Yooper Wildlife Watch will allow participants to classify numerous images of local animals whose pictures were taken with camera traps.

Yooper Wildlife Watch will focus on how wildlife populations and their associated communities respond to environmental disruptions such as habitat loss and climate change.

Diana Lafferty, assistant professor of biology at Northern Michigan University, is leading the initiative with the help of two graduate students, Tru Hubbard and Amelia Bergquist.

Lafferty introduced the project on Monday at a Northern Center for Lifelong Learning program at NMU’s Whitman Commons.

Cameras have been set up in natural areas in Marquette County to record images of animals moving by, ranging in size from small mammals such as chipmunks and squirrels to large animals such as coyotes and bears.

How many bears are in an image? Is it a raccoon or a badger?

This can lead to answers to these questions? Do hunters’ presence have an impact on their movements? How about hikers?

A camera trap is effective at taking many images in a short time. Because of that effectiveness, thousands of images will be taken, and they have to be classified.

This is where Zooniverse comes in. Participants can set up an account and, when Yooper Wildlife Watch begins, can help classify those images.

The initiative also is a collaborative effort between NMU ecology students and North Star Montessori Academy students who can take part in real scientific research.

That has to be gratifying for youngsters in their teens.

Lafferty said Yooper Wildlife Watch’s focus is on how humans interact with the landscape and what that means for some of the wildlife in the same ecosystem. That could have a lot of practical conservation applications.

Science professionals can’t do it all. They need help from people simply interested in science who want to make meaningful contributions.

Citizen science projects already have been taking place for years, with people making observations and recording them in projects such as the Michigan Frog and Toad Survey as well as the Christmas Bird Count.

Those projects require people going outside to listen to amphibians and count birds, respectively. That’s fun for many people, but not always practical.

With Yooper Wildlife Watch, people can classify images online, which can be accomplished in the comfort of home.

And it could be fun watching white-tailed deer and maybe even a wolf or two in their natural habitat.

— The Mining Journal (Marquette)

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