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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.

 

Filtering by Tag: citizen science

Science as Leisure: A Leisurely Primer

Many people ask me to explain my concept of "Science as Leisure".

It's pretty simple:

If you're taking part in a leisure activity that requires an understanding of activity-related scientific concepts to continue in said leisure activity, you're doing science as leisure. 

Science itself is a "way of knowing". You can also know by faith or other methods, but most of those have risks and pitfalls if you're trying to do one of these science as leisure activities. 

Take, for example, fish-keeping. To keep a fish alive, it's actually pretty complex. These animals do not live on land so their requirements and ways of living are vastly different than our own. Someone attempting to keep a fish alive in an aquarium doesn't only need to understand a baseline level of fish biology (e.g. (most) fish have gills) but also ecological processes. An aquarist needs to understand various concepts in biology and ecology for a fish to live. Aquarium keeping is thus a science as leisure activity. 

So what happens if the aquarist doesn't learn science?

Well, their fish dies.

This is  Paracheirodon innesi , the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo:  Rachel O'Leary

This is Paracheirodon innesi, the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo: Rachel O'Leary

And here is where things get sticky. Many aquarists will give up after this initial attempt at keeping a fish in captivity. After all, who wants to kill cute little neon tetras? But others persevere and continue after having been, essentially, a fish murderer. The fish must be taken care of by the owner or it won't live; if it dies, it's most likely you're fault.

This is, however, a very important learning experience. A fish's death is feedback to the aquarist. "AHhhhh... I did something wrong! I wonder what it is?"... and BOOM, we have a budding scientist right there. Next steps: Observation, Hypothesis, Data Collection, Analysis, Results, Conclusion. Of course most aquarists do not keep a log of this, or even think of their aquarium or their learning process in this manner. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

To keep an aquarium, the aquarist must understand a baseline level of scientific concepts, be able to implement them, and reformulate after failure to try again. This is a science as leisure activity and it only exists when the participant understands activity-related scientific concepts.

science as leisure

5 Reasons YOU Should Engage in Citizen Science!

If you don't identify as a scientist, do you sometimes want to learn more about a science subject? Maybe get more involved? Taking part in "citizen science" might just be for you! 

If you do identify as a scientist, do you want more data? Reach more people with your work? Communicate better with non-professional scientists? Then guess what?? Taking part (involving) "citizen scientists" might be right for you! 

DATA! Photo credit: Kelsey Neam

DATA! Photo credit: Kelsey Neam

So just what is this "citizen science"? Check out my colleagues' work in Central America to see how they engage citizen scientists and what positive outcomes stem from that inclusion. Here is their blog post on the subject: https://centralamericaabs.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/why-participate-and-engage-in-citizen-science/

The only photo you get from a sloth is a butt-shot. Photo by Kelsey "Sloth Lover" Neam

The only photo you get from a sloth is a butt-shot. Photo by Kelsey "Sloth Lover" Neam

Want to get more involved in science? Send me an e-mail and I can point you in the right direction! 

Also, check out twitter #citsci for the most up to date information and news about citizen science! 


What is a species?

You know what a species is, right?

Duh, yeah, of course you do! 

OK, let's put it into words. A species is: a... uh... group of animals, er, I mean organisms, that can interbreed and make fertile babies. 

BOOM. DONE. 

So, this definition of species is actually one of many.

Yep. One of many! Is your mind blown yet? 

It is true that many organisms pick out others "of their own kind" to mate with. We see this all around us; we hear frogs calling, birds chirping, and crickets... uh... cricketing. This "selection" for a mate is done by either the male or the female and they make sure their potential mate has certain attributes or characteristics. Some of these attributes help identify those of the same species; for example, a certain call or smell. However, some species can't select a mate because they do not have males and females!

Ever heard of an asexual? An asexual ('a' = without; 'sexual' = gender) can be thought of an individual without gender, or it can be thought of as one that just does not need a mate to reproduce! 

Perhaps you've heard of asexual-ness and "virgin births" from tabloids or other reading material. It's not just a story, it can actually happen. These "virgin births" as a result of parthenogenesis ('parthenos' = virgin; 'genesis' = creation or genesis). Believe it or not, this process occurs in fish, lizards, and of course the creepier crawlies such as daphnia ("water fleas"). The process of parthenogenesis can be divided into further types, but to keep it simple, here is daphnia's parthenogenic process:

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males.  That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from"    www.ansci.wisc.edu

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males. That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from" www.ansci.wisc.edu

With our definition of species above, are parthenogenic organisms actually "species"?

 They violate the definition after all! 

 

It turns out that the definition I gave is one under the "biological species concept". This is basically what we, the entirety of the United States (and maybe the world), uses to describe species. There are other species concepts that I can go over later but this gives you a good idea of just how complex describing a species is! We straight up ignore the fact that daphnia, and other pathenogenic organisms, don't follow the rules. Did you even know about this? Pretty crazy!

There is another glaring issue with the biological species concept. Can you figure out what it is? 




Citizen Science: Be a Squirrel Monitor

Citizen science is a way for people with no special training to participate in activities that promote exploration and discovery.

Most of the activities that have a citizen science component available are activities that people are doing with their leisure time anyway. One of the most popular citizen science initiatives is eBird.com which allows birdwatchers to report their sightings (more on that site later)!

I will be posting citizen science (cs) programs/opportunities periodically so you can see all the awesome data people just like you collect in their own backyard! Literally! 

The first cs program I'd like to tell you about is Project Squirrel (http://projectsquirrel.org). This program is out of Chicago but they collect data outside of Chicago too! It started in 1997 and have 1000+ people participate so far. That's not a whole lot for a cs program, I think they need some help! 

YOU!

If you see grey or fox squirrels in your yard, on campus, or wherever you may be you can add data to Project Squirrel! Below are the ways you can participate. This information was taken directly from the Project Squirrel website:

  • Record Your Squirrel Observations
    • Become a Citizen Scientist. Click here to tell us about squirrels near you. You can submit a single observation but, if you can, make at least four observations per site per year. If you are in an area where it seems like there should be squirrels but aren’t, please report that too.
  • Share Your Squirrel Stories
    • We will post your stories and observations as appropriate on this site. Click here to read what other people have seen. Click here to submit a story.
  • Share Your Squirrel Photos
    • We will post your squirrel photos as appropriate on this site. Click here to see what other's photos. Click here to submit a photo.

Video: http://youtu.be/8b1UCz-f4qc

I hope you take a minute to check out this citizen science opportunity.This could be a great project for someone who is at home constantly and can't get out much (elderly, home bound, home schooled kids, etc.). 

I'd like to thank my Aggie students in RPTS 301 for finding this citizen science project! 

As always, feel free to comment! 

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