This post is part two of a three-part series about how Curio can help citizens recognize, appreciate, and care for the highly beneficial green spaces around them.
When I was 8 years old, a friend of mine fell from the very top of an extremely tall cypress tree. I remember it well, because he grabbed my arm as he toppled backwards and took me with him. If life were a cartoon, there would have been a whistling noise as we fell and just a tiny puff of smoke when we hit the ground, a million miles below. It was a really tall tree!
The other thing I remember vividly from that day, beyond my experience with the accelerating force of gravity, is that it was the first time I had ever been to the absolute top of a tree and seen the tree canopy from above. I was able to see very clearly the varied colours and textures of the different trees stretching away around me in a vast, carpet of natural patterns. That view stuck with me, and reminded me as I got older how a simple shift in perspective can transform how you experience the world.
So how has this mad trip down memory-lane got anything to do with Citizen Science?
These days I work on a project called Curio, which aims to help people learn about the trees around them, whilst taking part in a citizen science effort to better map and monitor urban forests. One of the motivating factors for my colleagues and I in beginning this project (besides its direct environmental benefits) was hoping that we could tweak people’s awareness by giving them new ways of experiencing their local area, in the ultimate hope that it will strengthen people’s sense of themselves as caretakers of their local environment.
You see, through Curio we are asking people to help us photograph and map their local trees so that we can get a better picture of which trees are growing in an area and, importantly, their condition. As a tree gets mapped, whomever maps it can include its species if they know it, and if they don’t, they can ask Curio’s network of experts to help. Using the photos that they have taken of a tree, people usually get an answer in just a few minutes. Once the tree has been identified, it gets connected to Curio’s rich libraries of information, making loads more detail available so that anyone can discover more about the trees they encounter.
For me, the changes in my perspective that I have noticed taking place through using Curio are that, as I steadily absorb the names of trees and plants, I can experience the world very differently. In a park or a street, I notice the trees more and also distinguish between them. Not only that, but because I have learned about the pollution reduction benefits that trees bring, I now find I am more quickly aware of when the air on a street smells fresh or if it’s tinged with diesel fumes.
Before starting work on Curio, the closest I’d come to appreciating trees was when I was climbing in their branches. Later I didn’t pay them a great deal of attention until I became intent on working on projects that help to preserve the environment. Now I see them in an entirely more meaningful way as I learn more each day about the complex connections they deliver to local ecosystems, the habitats they support, the services they provide, and the wealth of reasons why we plant them in our towns and cities.
We are hoping that Curio can help lots of people to enjoy this view of the world. We definitely don’t think you should be walking around staring at your phone all day, but we would like people to help protect the trees around them by using Curio when they are out and about to record a tree’s location and add some photos of the tree, its leaves, its bark, and any interesting features or wildlife that you spot on it. In return, we will continue to make Curio as interesting, enjoyable, and rewarding an experience as we can and use the great data you collect to help protect your local area.
The more this happens, the more information we can provide on the trees in your local area and the better we can support local organizations to plan and care for them appropriately. Curio supports programs in different jurisdictions to protect against particular pests and diseases (eg. Chalara fraxinea and Xylella fastidiosa outbreaks in Europe; Emerald ash borer and Polyphagus shothole borer threats in the US), and Curio can only do this with your help.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!