Social Media Could Help Save Species On The Verge Of Extinction

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Did you ever think that pictures you took of wild plants and animals in your free time may help scientists studying threatened or endangered species?  Scientists are using photos posted on websites like iNaturalist and eBird to document where certain species are found so they can find the best way to protect them.  Observations can be very important when they report that a species was seen in an area outside of its known range, because it could represent new suitable habitat with climate change or the spread of species by humans (either intentionally or inadvertently).  This can also help advance research by having a lot more eyes in a lot more places that scientists can’t survey themselves to keep track of plant and animal populations.

An example of this includes a photo of a collared lizard taken by a high school student at a park in the San Francisco Bay Area and shared on iNaturalist.  It turns out the collared lizard is native to the desert of Nevada and eastern California, and was never seen in this area before, meaning it could have been an escaped pet.  However, the habitat may be suitable for the lizard, especially as it gets drier with climate change.

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.