Choose the topics of most interest to you to follow under "My Headlines".
Prevent Invasive Plant Species From Taking Over the Eno
Durham, NC - You don't need a Ph.D. in science to make an important contribution to scientific research.
If you're like retired high school teachers John and Rita Goebel of Durham, all you need is a home computer and a pair of hiking shoes. Duke biologist Julie Reynolds and the Eno River State Park in Durham will provide the rest.
In collaboration with park officials, Reynolds has launched the Plant Stalkers program to identify and locate invasive plants in the park. She is deputizing citizens like the Goebels and arming them with hand-held GPS navigation devices to mark the precise locations of non-native plants along the trails while they enjoy the park.
"It's hiking -- with a purpose," says Reynolds, an instructor in the Duke biology department who coordinates the Citizen Science project.
A Plant Stalkers training session is scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Sept. 20 at Eno River State Park in Durham.
The data that citizens gather will be uploaded to the Internet to build an ever-changing map that guides park planners and biologists who are trying to prevent invasive species from crowding out native plants and taking over the park.
At a Saturday afternoon training session in the park, the volunteers first learn which trees, shrubs, herbs and vines to look out for. Park ranger Jason Gwinn displays some freshly-pulled plants and discusses their distinguishing characteristics. The volunteers practice using the bright yellow GPS receivers, each slightly bigger than a cell phone, then set off on the trail.
Not far down the path, ranger Gwinn gestures toward a pale green patch of Japanese stiltgrass and Chinese lespedeza growing in the underbrush.
"This is one of the ones that's really bad," he says, leaning over to give the stiltgrass a closer look. "This stuff is everywhere."
The volunteers stand close to the plants and push a button on their GPS units to record the location, then continue down the trail. Leading the way, Gwinn points to a spray of multiflora rose on the edge of the forest, its arching stems dotted with small red berries. A tender vine of Japanese honeysuckle twines its way up a nearby tree, and in an adjacent clearing, a lush stand of tree-of-heaven reaches upward toward the sky.
"Right here within 6 feet of each other we've got three different invasives," Gwinn notes.
These plants look harmless enough. Many are planted as ornamentals in urban parks and home gardens. But when left unchecked in natural areas, these unwelcome arrivals can cause severe ecological and economic damage.
With fewer natural predators and diseases to slow their spread, many invasive plant species grow more aggressively than their native counterparts, slowly crowding out or killing native plants that wildlife depend on for food and cover.
"This is the perfect example right here," says Gwinn, pointing to a cluster of tree-of-heaven shoots surrounding a native dogwood tree. "In three years, these sprouts will be taller than the dogwood. They'll block the light and kill the dogwood. They just spread like crazy and take over and kill the native plants."
A few yards away, John Goebel spies a dense clump of Chinese privet and pulls out his GPS unit to mark the spot.
Once home, the volunteers will upload their data to Google Earth -- a free online mapping program that displays satellite images of the Earth's surface -- to create a bird's-eye view of the distribution of invasive plants along the trails. (See maps from a pilot project at science writing.org/results07.html).
Depending on the GPS device, the location is accurate to within 9 feet or so, Reynolds says.
When comparing the data collected by volunteers to that collected by professional botanists, Reynolds has found the results are remarkably similar. "People can collect high-quality data if you teach them how," says Reynolds. "Last year we had about an 89 percent accuracy rate. That's really good."
People who visit the park on a regular basis "will notice changes through time that scientists who come out once a year might not notice," Reynolds says.
"We hike it all the time," Rita Goebel says. "As often as we're in the park, [we thought] this could be a way of making ourselves useful. And learning in the process."
Sponsored by the Duke Center for Science Education, these citizen scientists are part of a growing army of volunteers -- many of whom have no formal scientific training -- who do scientific research in their spare time. From tracking animal migration patterns to monitoring rare or threatened species, everyday citizens are contributing in meaningful ways to scientific research programs across the country.
Reynolds hopes to expand the Plant Stalkers program to other North Carolina state parks in the coming years. For scientists and for the community, the payoffs are huge. "It's really a partnership," Reynolds says. "We're all working together with a common goal."
Plant Stalkers Training Session
1-3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 20,
Eno River State Park,
6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham.
© 2013 Office of News & Communications
615 Chapel Drive, Box 90563, Durham, NC 27708-0563
(919) 684-2823; After-hours phone (for reporters on deadline): (919) 812-6603