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Georgia Natural History Survey

We invite you to join a consortium to conduct a natural history survey across Georgia. The survey's goals are to
  • teach science and quantitative skills through inquiry-based learning;
  • understand the impacts of weather, invasives, pollution, pests, diseases and other factors on species and their interactions;
  • provide timely information to gardeners, farmers and natural resource managers, enabling them to respond rapidly to invasives, pests and other threats.

Lithophane querquera,
Shivering Pinion Moth caterpillar
Alsophila pometaria,
Fall Cankerworm Moth caterpillar.

Fall Natural History Survey event, 14-15 September, 2012

The survey will build on Discover Life (www.discoverlife.org) and other consortium members' technology, databases and outreach experience. It will

  • recruit participants from all walks of life and provide meaningful ways for them to inventory and monitor species;
  • build on-line local identification guides that enable non-experts to identify species;
  • provide training, technical support, and quality control so all participants can generate and use large quantities of accurate data;
  • make these data available via the web within a day of submission, excluding sensitive information such as the locations of rare species;
  • help participants ask questions of their own data and those of others, so that they can learn valuable skills in graphing, mapping, statistical analysis and modeling.

Understanding the potential impacts of climate, invasive species, and other large-scale factors on biological systems is a formidable task. The vast quantities of data that we need to collect require public participation. However, there are two impediments to engaging the public: they generally lack identification skills and scientific credibility. Did the observer correctly record exactly where and when they made an observation? Did they identify it correctly? Observations without further evidence are plagued by doubt.

The survey will overcome these impediments with Discover Life's radically new methods. Participants will take digital photographs and follow rigorous research protocols that accurately document time and place. Then the methods integrate the submission and tagging of photographs, species identification, mapping, and oversight by computers and human experts who correct errors and ensure high data quality. These methods expedite data collection and eliminate the need to kill and process specimens. They enable everyone to help document changes in the distribution, phenology, abundance and interactions of species.

Georgia has a rich flora and fauna. The survey will focus on species that can be identified from photographs, including a range of vertebrates, plants, fungi and invertebrates. It will teach science both in and out of the classroom through hands-on research. For an example of a standards-aligned project for high school biology or environmental science classes, as well as ones at the undergraduate and graduate level, see Mothing (www.discoverlife.org/moth). The survey will also support activities in 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other clubs. It will provide a rapid means for gardeners, farmers and land managers to share information. It will enable individual naturalists to store and manage photographic data, map occurrences, identify species, and collect a digital Life List of species. In short, there is something for everyone, and we hope you will participate.

We launched the Georgia Natural History Survey at a meeting celebrating Discover Life's first billion hits. The meeting was held at the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, Athens on 7 October, 2011. For more information please contact Discover Life (dl@discoverlife.org).

Updated: 23 August, 2012
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