Citizen science refers to research collaborations between scientists and volunteers that expand opportunities for scientific data collection while also providing access to this information to community members. Volunteers follow a protocol and explore the topic, while the data are used to answer research questions. Citizen science programs, usually addressing questions that require long-term, large-scale data collection, are a great way for people to contribute to science. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have long participated in a range of citizen science programs, ranging in topics from bird and butterfly surveys, to beach monitoring, to using camera traps to identify which animals are living in local landscapes.
AZA's citizen science program, FrogWatch USA, encourages volunteers to collect and contribute information about the breeding calls of frogs and toads to a national dataset that is publicly available online. The information collected by thousands of FrogWatch USA volunteers across the United States is then analyzed to inform the development of environmental protection and amphibian conservation strategies. Read more about FrogWatch USA.
In 2015, programs about six citizen science programs were made available by PBS KIDS' SciGirls, an Emmy Award-winning television and online series that encourages youth - particularly middle school-aged girls - to pursue studies and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The episodes are complemented by educational activities, appropriate for grades 5-8. FrogWatch USA and the Saint Louis Zoo are both featured in the episode called "Frog Whisperers". A program evaluation suggested that seeing the episode before participating in FrogWatch USA increased middle school aged girls’ interest in and understanding of citizen science.
Every year, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums provide information about their field conservation and science activities to AZA’s Conservation and Research Database. Members enter program updates each year; follow the link and use the search fields to explore how individual AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are engaging in citizen science. Read more about the AZA community’s commitment to conservation and science.
AZA is one of several organizations that partnered with the Citizen Science Association (CSA) to coordinate a nationwide Citizen Science Day on April 16th, 2016. We hope that many facilities continue to celebrate citizen science!
AZA actively supports and promotes citizen science programs around the country, since participation in these programs connects people of all ages to nature. SciStarter offers a searchable database so you can find a program of interest to you – and if you manage a citizen science program, be sure to add it to SciStarter!