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New Citizen Science Project Will Study Frog Populations in Hiram, Portage County

Left to right: Associate professor Cara Constance, biomedical humanities major Gurneet Raina ’13, assistant professor Jennifer Clark

Gurneet Raina ’13 is turning her summer Field Station research into a campus-wide citizen science initiative.

She has worked with faculty and staff from the biology department and the Field Station to begin a FrogWatch USA chapter for Hiram College and the greater Portage County community starting this semester.

Raina, a biomedical humanities major from Westlake, happened upon FrogWatch USA while doing summer research alongside associate biology professor Cara Constance. The program is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ flagship citizen science program and allows individuals to learn about the wetlands in their communities while helping conserve amphibians.

Raina and Constance, after discovering their Field Station research was very similar to the information FrogWatch USA was seeking, attended a training workshop in Denver in August 2012. From there, they became certified to begin their own chapter on campus.

FrogWatch USA chapters teach participants how to identify frog calls and wetland sites. As the semester progresses, Hiram College participants will hike in the Field Station to record calls at specific sites. The data they collect will be submitted to FrogWatch USA to paint a picture of frog populations and why and if they are declining.

Matt Sorrick, director of the Center for Science Education, and other students had actually been collecting similar information for many years.

“We weren’t really aware that what we were doing could actually involve the community,” Raina said. “We thought it was a great way to get everyone in the community involved, especially because even though Hiram College is small, our networking is pretty large.”

In order to be successful, citizen science programs require a large amount of data from a wide variety of people. So they decided the best way to start a chapter would be to offer FrogWatch USA as a one credit hour course for the Spring 12-Week.

“We want to offer the course every spring,” said Jennifer Clark, assistant professor of biology, who, with Constance, is co-teaching the course. “If we have a course every year, we’ll be able to collect long-term data.”

But even though it is offered as a course, they expect community involvement as well. Constance said faculty and staff from various departments across campus have expressed interest in participating, and they will continue to spread the word. Non-student participants will also be able to record data from their own homes to extend the research beyond just the Field Station.

Constance said most FrogWatch USA chapters are based at zoos and aquariums, so Hiram College’s chapter will be unique in that it will involve a different population of citizen scientists.

“We’re engaging young people in their early twenties, and that age group may not be likely to visit the zoo very often or volunteer for a program like this, so (it’s) a whole new population,” she said.

She and Clark expect participants will benefit personally from the project as well.

“Having that experience changes the way they’re going to vote,” Clark said. “It changes the way that they get their kids outside. It changes a lot about active lifestyles. There are a lot of benefits of it.”

As for Raina, who has taken the lead in developing training materials for participants and putting the plan into action, she’s gotten experience that she will take with her as she graduates from Hiram College and prepares to apply for medical school.

“It’s given me great leadership skills,” she said. “Having the confidence to take the next step saying, ‘Oh, let’s have a chapter at Hiram College,’ and then developing the courses. It started one way and ended in a different way, and that’s the best experience I’ve gotten.”

Coming Soon at the Field Station

There are fifteen species of frogs in Ohio and between nine and 12 of them can be found at the Field Station, making it an ideal place to study their populations for FrogWatch USA.

As the community engages in the citizen science project, Jim Metzinger, associate director of the Field Station, is working on a display in the entry area of the main building that will feature each species found on the grounds.

He hopes the exhibit will be ready sometime in February, and when it is, it will attract elementary schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other education or nature organizations.

Learn more about the James H. Barrow Field Station

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