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Tackling Invasive Species Using Citizen Science

Originally appears in the Spring 2014 issue

SPECIES ARE ON THE MOVE. Whether by human activity, climate change, natural range shifts, or other means, plants, animals, and insects are finding their way to new places across the globe. Some species become invasive in their new homes. They disrupt the ecological balance, reduce biodiversity, or impact our interactions with the environment.

Invasive species scientists and resource managers are charged with identifying and responding quickly to the arrival of potentially disruptive species. They monitor and manage their spread, and investigate impacts on native species, ecosystem processes, and biodiversity. But with so many species on the move and so much land, freshwater, and coastline to cover, the task can move from difficult to downright daunting.

Elementary, middle, and high school students alike can make important contributions to invasive species early detection, monitoring, and research efforts by becoming keen citizen scientists. They can post their own species observations, comments, and multimedia projects to active online communities of peers and professionals across the globe.

We’ll show you what this type of learning looks like through the lens of one growing citizen science community in Maine, and how you can use what’s happening there as a model and inspiration for empowering your own students as citizen scientists.

An online network of tens of thousands of students and teachers can help to inform and extend scientists’ otherwise limited research and monitoring efforts. The nature of the work demands students develop scientific habits of mind curiosity, observation, questioning, reasoning, and analysis. They use science practices and skills as they collaborate and communicate in person and online with peers and professionals. As citizen scientists, students can learn science by being scientists.

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Sarah Morrisseau was instrumental in the early design and growth of the Vital Signs community, and now works for the interactive website development company Image Works in Portland, Maine.

Christine Voyer is the Vital Signs Science Education Program Manager.

Vital Signs is a program of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and is based in Portland, Maine.  The Vital Signs curriculum carries a Creative Commons CC-BY license that encourages anyone to use, remix, and share units, activities, and resources as long as attribution is given to GMRI. Adapt the resources and connect with a community of educators who are engaging students in invasive species investigations by visiting