Seven weeks ago I began my internship at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in southwest Florida. I am a biology intern responsible for a wide variety of tasks. Some days we are in the mangroves assessing how their soil levels are responding to an influx of nutrients.
Other days we do vegetation transect surveys in the refuge and the bay to quantify the impacts humans have on certain areas that are frequently visited.
Also, there is a cyanobacteria that has become increasingly prevalent on seagrass beds. This is problematic because it prevents the sea grass from being able to absorb sunlight and “chokes” it until the sea grass becomes uprooted.
There was a native plant restoration done less than a year ago and I have helped with spartina plantings this year to reestablish habitat for some inland species, such as the rice rat, black racer, and gopher tortoise.
The research project I am working on involves a citizen science program called eBird. Through this online program (and an app!), birders from all around the world can record observations of birds they have seen, how many birds, the amount of time they spent observing, and their location. This data has been used by scientists to answer basic questions about presence/absence data, diversity, and migratory times.
The refuge does bird surveys throughout the year to collect these same types of data. Some studies have shown data collected by this citizen science program is consistent with the data collected through standardized surveys conducted by refuge staff. I am comparing data collected on eBird to data collected by the J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR staff to determine if both methods produce consistent results. If they are consistent, arguments can be made to allocate our time and limited resources to other areas, such as more in depth questions about birds and their parental dynamics.