February 18, 2018

NCSU Libraries Launch Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge


Camera trap photo from an earlier NCSU research project

Teams of North Carolina State University (NCSU) students, faculty, and staff are using professional-grade covert camera traps to track wildlife activity on the university’s 2,100 acre campus as part of the Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge. The collaboration between NCSU Libraries, College of Sciences, and College of Natural Resources, in partnership with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Smithsonian-supported eMammal project, began on August 17 and will continue through October 29.

After completing a 40-minute online training course, teams of two to four volunteers can check out one of 20 camera traps from NCSU’s Natural Resources Library—on loan from the eMammal project—to be deployed on campus at a specific, geolocation-assigned spot. After three weeks teams retrieve their camera, upload motion-captured pictures to the eMammal database, and return it to the library for other volunteers to use.

The uploaded photos and related data will help conservationists and researchers, such as NCSU zoologist and eMammal project leader Roland Kays, study how animals are navigating and living in urban/rural boundary areas, explained Debbie Currie, collection manager for Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In addition to Currie, Karen Ciccone, director of the Natural Resources Library, and Heidi Tebbe, collection manager for Engineering and Data Science, are also facilitating the project for NCSU libraries.

“We first became involved in citizen science while working with [NCSU professor of applied ecology] Dr. Rob Dunn’s lab to create some visualizations highlighting various citizen science projects his lab had underway…. Our initial work with him was what ultimately paved the way for the Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge and all of the other cool things we’re starting to do related to citizen science,” explained Currie.

“That’s also when we first met [NCSU director of public science] Holly Menninger, who along with Rob Dunn has become an enthusiastic library collaborator,” Currie added. “As a land-grant institution, it’s in NC State’s DNA to seek to improve science literacy and promote public science, so this type of work fully supports the university’s mission…in a really fun and engaging way.”

Dunn and Menninger had previously helped the library coordinate visualization projects such as “The Dynamic Sun” earlier this year.

To promote the challenge, the library published two new pages on its website—one detailing the Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge, and another that highlights all citizen science projects on campus. The library and university-level communications staff sent out a press announcement, and Menninger helped promote the event to students and faculty in NCSU’s College of Sciences.

Library staff also promoted the challenge in person at NCSU’s fifth annual Packapalooza street festival on August 20. And on August 30, Kays gave a presentation of some of his recent research, “Eastern Coyotes: Part Wolf, Part Dog, Extremely Adaptable” in the Teaching and Visualization Lab at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library. In the unique presentation space, Raleigh, NC–based musician Senator Jaiz performed a live soundtrack as Kays discussed how coyotes are hybridizing with wolves and dogs, and are being seen more often in urban areas. (“Wolfpack” is an NCSU nickname, not a reference to a specific type of animal targeted by this project.)

To encourage participation, the first 80 people to sign up receive a Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge t-shirt, and all participants are entered into a contest to win a Reconyx PC900 HyperFire Professional Covert Camera Trap, which retails for $650.

The Natural Resources Library quickly loaned out the 20 camera traps allotted to the project. After three weeks in the field, those units are being returned, beginning this week, which will enable a second round of teams to participate. To maintain momentum for the project, as the first round of participants upload their photos to the eMammal database, they are encouraged to share those photos on social media sites with the hashtag #WolfpackCitSci. The best photos and social media stories will receive prizes as well, and library staff will chronicle the project using Storify.

160908_cameratrapnight“It’s a high priority at the library to be integrated into the university community, and this [challenge] is a great example of how we’ve been able to do that,” Currie said, describing how the project had been inspired by Dunn, and had gotten the library working with Kays.

“Citizen science is a great way for everyone to participate in real scientific research,” Menninger said in the project announcement. “What I love most is that you don’t have to have a science background to participate—all you need is curiosity about the natural world. Together, through citizen science, scientists and the public work together to create new scientific knowledge. In the case of the Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge, we’re going to discover new things about how mammals use our urban college campus—how cool is that?”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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