ANNAPOLIS, MD (July 04, 2017) – Even if you don’t have a degree in science, you can help support scientific research through a number of “citizen science” efforts. For invasive species research in Maryland, one of the best ways to help is through data collection. Collecting data is one of the most time-consuming parts of scientific work, whether it involves counting specimens, estimating extent or number, weighing, or simply identifying a species in the field. Marylanders can use a number of tools to help add to our field knowledge of species and their distributions. This collected knowledge can then inform management or restoration decisions and priorities. Because citizen scientists are out on the landscape and the water during July, the Maryland Invasive Species Council has chosen citizen scientists and their tools as the topic for the July Invader of the Month.
One of the most important roles citizen scientists can fulfill in invasive species work is Early Detection and Rapid Response, or EDRR for short. This includes finding and reporting new populations of existing invasive species, or invasive species that have never been reported previously. Over a decade ago, the technology staff at the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health (CISEH) developed the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS), a web-based mapping system for doing just that. EDDMapS allows users to document and geo-reference invasive species occurrences through a simple, interactive Web interface. Because it is easy to use and requires no experience with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), EDDMapS is accessible to all skill levels. Location and other invasive species data are then visible, and downloadable, as maps in several formats, over the entire United States. (See http://www.eddmaps.org for examples.)
To facilitate and encourage direct reporting from the field, CISEH developed a number of smart-phone apps that feed reports directly into the EDDMapS database, after the species identifications are verified by species experts. In Maryland, we use the Mid-Atlantic Early Detection Network or MAEDN (pronounced “may-den”), which was co-developed in 2012 by CISEH and the National Park Service. MAEDN allows for rapid reporting of invasive plants, insects, pathogens and wildlife, not only in Maryland, but in the District of Columbia and the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. (See http://www.eddmaps.org/midatlantic/ to download the app to your smart phone or tablet.)
Maryland DNR offers training in how to use MAEDN and report invasive species locations and population sizes, through its Statewide Eyes program. (See http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/statewide_eyes.aspx for 2017 scheduled trainings.) Over 200 users or data sources have supplied Maryland records; in 2016, over 1100 records were logged. A number of these were first local detections, including Kudzu bug in Montgomery County in August 2013, and the expansion of narrowleaf bittercress in southern Baltimore County in 2017.
Maryland is also home to the Maryland Biodiversity Project, a not-for-profit group dedicated to building a community of people interested in the natural world, and in documenting photographically and geographically every species in the state, not just invasive ones (See https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com for more information and how to contribute.) MBP is a partner, along with DNR’s Natural Heritage Program and the University of Maryland’s Norton-Brown Herbarium, in compiling the Maryland Plant Atlas. The mission of the MPA is to provide authoritative distribution maps for all the native and naturalized plants of Maryland based on the best available data; to provide accurate and up-to-date information on the flora to the public; and to promote conservation and research by increasing awareness and appreciation for wild plants. (See http://www.marylandplantatlas.org/index.php for more information.) All of these collected sources, as well as websites with mobile collection applications such as iNaturalist, eBird, BugGuide.net, contribute to the huge task of amassing data. Such collections are then available for data mining, by interested layperson and research scientist alike. The more we know about a species or a place, the better able we are to restore, protect or preserve it. Incremental knowledge builds up, through the work of citizen scientists just like you, to a more detailed understanding of Maryland’s flora and fauna, and of the threats to their continued healthy existence.
For more information about other Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland, visit the Maryland Invasive Species Council or call the Maryland Department of Agriculture at 410-841-5920.