Enjoy science? Love the national parks? Want to experience your park through a new lens? Become an NPS Citizen Scientist!
What is a Citizen Scientist?
Citizen Science programs are developed to offer volunteers the opportunity to work in the parks they love. The benefit of Citizen Science programs is a group of trained volunteers who work with park staff to reach a common goal; understanding the different types of species a park has. Participation as a citizen scientist helps parks to conduct research and develop management plans on how to adapt to climate change. Citizen science engages volunteers of all ages, some with little or no prior scientific training, in collecting scientific data related to important issues faced by the parks. In 2015, volunteers collected bumble bees at Shenandoah National Park, The Blue Ridge Parkway, and at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What’s the deal with snails?
In spring and summer of 2017, Park staff and citizen scientists will inventory land snails and millipedes along the Blue Ridge Parkway! Land snails are an easily overlooked and understudied part of the ecology in the southern and central Appalachians. Of the more than 1,000 species known to occur in North America, 25 have been identified on the Parkway, but another 125 are likely to be found here, some of which may be rare or even endemic.
Land snails, semi-slugs, and slugs contribute significantly to decomposition and nitrification of soils through their decaying bodies and feces. Their dead shells are a principal source of calcium. Land snails recycle forest nutrients and are prey for a number of vertebrate (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) and invertebrate (insects, carnivorous snails) species. Carnivorous snails feed on earthworms, insect larvae, and other snails. Some species consume dead and rotting organic materials while others eat live plants, especially seedlings and tender plants. Though poorly understood, some snails prefer to eat fungi and may be an important factor in dispersal of fungal spores.
Land snails are important environmental indicators and biodiversity predictors. Because of their close association with water, mollusks are good indicators of the health of the environment and may play an important role in monitoring climate change. Despite fabulous adaptations to land, snails are among the most sensitive animals to pollutants, including road runoff and acidic rainfall. Land snail populations have dwindled in recent decades, in turn contributing to the decline of some species of birds that feed on them and depend on them as sources of calcium for creating egg shells.
The Blue Ridge Parkway’s Natural Resources and Science Division is looking for dedicated individuals to participate in our 2017 spring (April-May) Citizen Science Program to conduct field surveys of land snails and slugs on and off trails along the Parkway. Currently a total of 50 locations along the Parkway have been selected for surveying and volunteers may sign up for one or multiple locations over the course of the project, according to your own schedule and availability.
The Parkway plans to have a kick off training event in Asheville, North Carolina, on April 8, 2017. Training will last from 9am until 3pm and volunteers will receive instruction from malacologist and Parkway staff on how to identify habitat and collect specimens. A second training event is being planned for Peaks of Otter, Virginia, on May 6, 2017.
Volunteers will be expected to provide their own mode of transportation to training events and collection sites, rain gear, hiking boots, water, food, daypack for day trips, and any other personal items as needed. Other field survey equipment will be provided but volunteers may use their own gear if desired.
Both land snails and millipedes are extremely important for decomposing leaf litter. Land snails are an important source of the calcium breeding songbirds need for their eggs and some species produce slime when they are threatened that fluoresces under UV light. In addition to offering two in-person training sessions this spring, training information will also be posted on Hands in the Land and use the great resource of the website for coordinating the collecting effort and sharing the data.
If you are interested or have more questions about the project please contact Andrew Young, who will be available through April 14, 2017:
AmeriCorps – ACE
Blue Ridge Parkway