Photo: Natural History Museum, Los Angeles

Photo: Natural History Museum, Los Angeles

A little over a month ago my wife traveled down to the Natural History Museum to learn how to participate in the world’s largest urban biodiversity study. The BioSCAN ProjectRASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California), SLIME (Snails and slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments), and the Southern California Squirrel Survey, in partnership with the Urban Nature Research Center at Los Angeles Natural History Museum, have all coordinated to invite regular people to become scientists…citizen scientists.

Photo: Gregory Han

Photo: Gregory Han

Because of the expansion of urban development, many animal species have had to adapt – or perish – affecting biodiversity in ways that aren’t always apparent. The NHM’s Citizen Science Program is turning to Angelenos to aid in investigating distribution and behavior of various species.

For example, we all see squirrels happily doing there thing here across Los Angeles. On the surface the population seems to be thriving. But did you know our native grey squirrels have been pushed out of their traditional range due to the disappearance of their native habitat of local oaks and black walnut trees? What you’ve been seeing are non-native eastern fox squirrels.

We have a half-dozen of these cute transplants living in our backyard, even though we live in the last section of Greater Los Angeles with a viable population of native Californian black walnut trees to feed local squirrels. The eastern fox squirrels are just more adaptable to urban life than their Californian country counterparts.

A map from the Southern California Squirrel Survey.

A map from the Southern California Squirrel Survey.

Jim Dines, a mammalogist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is now leading the charge in surveying the distribution of squirrels in Southern California. My wife signed herself up to observe and report back how these adaptive eastern transplants are doing, especially in these times when the stress of the drought is affecting both flora and fauna in innumerable ways. The responsibilities of a Citizen Scientist are modest: Surveying your yard for 15 minutes, twice a month, for one year, in search of squirrels, reptiles, amphibians, and snails and recording your observations (including submitting photos  based on your backyard surveys). It’s something my wife and I already do while enjoying the microcosm of life happening in our very own backyard up here in Mt. Washington.

To learn more about becoming a Citizen Scientist yourself, check out the various programs over at the NHM’s Citizen Science Program site.


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