Community science opportunities

Community science, or community members collecting data and observations, helps researchers and natural resource managers learn more about wildlife, invasive species, water quality, the effects of climate change and much more.

Following are some opportunities to get involved in community science projects in Michigan and around the country and the globe.

Michigan opportunities

National/international opportunities

Michigan opportunities

Monitor Michigan's osprey populations
Osprey - magnificent fish-hunting raptors with striking brown and white plumage - were once a threatened species in our state but were successfully reintroduced to southern Michigan and removed from the threatened species list in 2009. It is important that osprey continue to be monitored closely statewide, as they are still listed as a state species of special concern. Volunteer community scientists can help in two ways:

Help find Michigan's biggest trees
The Michigan Big Tree Hunt is a great activity for families, groups of friends, fun dates or solo adventurers.  By identifying big trees, you can take part in a statewide effort to track these living landmarks. You could find the largest tree in your county or even the state! The biggest trees are nominated for the State Champion Tree List and can even be entered into the official National Register of Big Trees. Just complete the Big Tree Hunt entry form to submit your tree. ‚Äč

Join the Vernal Pool Patrol
Little information is currently available on the status, distribution and ecology of vernal pools - small wetlands, which are typically filled with water in the spring but usually dry up during the summer, that provide critical habitat for certain animal and plant species - in Michigan. Community scientists who want to learn more about these fascinating wetlands can help verify and collect more information about vernal pools across the state. These data will help inform conservation efforts. Participate in the Vernal Pool Patrol.

Become a Michigan Sentinel Tree volunteer
The impact of exotic invasive species on our forests in the U.S. is staggering. One way to keep these unwanted invaders out of our woods is to create a network of sentinel trees across the state, with trained volunteers who agree to "adopt" an individual tree and monitor and report on the condition of the tree over time. Changes in the condition of the tree are often important clues about what's happening with forest pests. The more volunteers, the greater the number of sentinel trees, and the greater the chance that we keep these extremely damaging pests and diseases out! Learn about becoming a Michigan Sentinel Tree volunteer.

Volunteer with Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program
MiCorps' Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program has been an important component of Michigan's inland lakes monitoring program for over 40 years. Its primary purpose is to help citizen volunteers monitor indicators of water quality in their lake and document changes in lake quality over time. The CLMP provides technical assistance, training and other support to volunteer lake monitors to ensure they are collecting reliable, high-quality data. Learn more about becoming a CLMP volunteer.

Take part in Michigan frog and toad survey
Michigan is home to 13 native species of frogs and toads. In recent years, many observers have been concerned with the apparent rarity, decline and/or population die-offs of several of these species. The Michigan Frog and Toad Survey began in 1988 to increase knowledge of the species' abundance and distribution, and to monitor their populations over the long term. You can help track frog and toad population trends in Michigan by listening for their calls in the spring. Data is collected throughout the state, and anyone who is interested is welcome to participate. Learn more about participating in the Michigan Frog and Toad Survey.

Observe Michigan's amphibians and reptiles
The Michigan Herp Atlas project is a community science program that collects observation data about Michigan's amphibians and reptiles (collectively known as herpetofauna or "herps"), an important group of animals in our natural ecosystems, to document their distribution and changes in their populations statewide. The Michigan Herp Atlas site has been updated recently and is now mobile-friendly, making it even easier to report your sightings. Learn more at MiHerpAtlas.org.

Join the Michigan Butterfly Network
Since 2011, community scientists have been gathering vital data on our local butterfly populations for the Michigan Butterfly Network. Many Michigan butterfly species have drastically declined in numbers due to habitat loss, fragmentation and climate change. To gain insight on butterfly population patterns and trends, we need to monitor butterflies in the field when they are most active, during the summer months. Learn more about becoming a butterfly monitor.

Help study Michigan birds in the winter
Help the Kalamazoo Nature Center study Michigan birds in the winter! Do you have a birdfeeder visible from a window in your home or at your office? If so, you are perfectly equipped to participate in KNC's Annual Winter Feeder Survey. From November through April, volunteers submit monthly information about the birds observed at their birdfeeders while following a simple protocol. The data gathered helps researchers better understand, protect and conserve bird species that utilize Michigan habitats. Learn more about the Winter Feeder Count.

Lend a hand for the health of the Huron River Watershed
As a volunteer for the Huron River Watershed Council, you can work with fun, like-minded locals to help collect samples and data that the council will use to advocate for the health of Huron River Watershed. There are many ways you can jump in, including collecting insects, checking out creeks and streams, and assessing natural areas. Learn more about volunteering with Huron River Watershed Council.

Help investigate wildlife in Michigan
There is much to be learned from the animals in Michigan. Help researchers with the Michigan ZoomIN project better understand the relationships between predators and prey, behavior, distribution and more by classifying the images captured by remote cameras throughout the state. Learn more about participating in Michigan ZoomIN.

What are fish eating? Help researchers find out
As invasive species shift the Great Lakes food web, predators are changing their feeding habits. The Michigan-Huron Diet Study enlists anglers to contribute stomachs from all types of predatory fish caught in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. If you fish early or late in the year, late at night or in places away from crowds, your contribution may be especially useful. Learn more about taking part in the Michigan-Huron Diet Study.

National/international opportunities

Take part in Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Join the nation's longest-running community science bird project and sign up for a count near you. All Christmas Bird Counts are conducted between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 each season. Your local count will occur on one day between those dates. Participate in as many counts as you wish! Join the Christmas Bird Count.

Become a RIVERS ranger and record habitat problems
RIVERS (which stands for River Inventory by Volunteers for Efficient Restoration Strategies) is an easy-to-use mobile application tool that helps Trout Unlimited identify disturbances to local streams. Download the app, walk through the guidance documents provided, and you can be on the water flagging and photographing areas of stream degradation in no time. Whether you see a dam or culvert preventing fish passage, an eroded bank adding sediment to the stream or a potential water pollution source, your collected information becomes easily accessible and actionable by local TU chapters, partners and agencies. Get started with RIVERS.

Help fight invasive species with MISIN
The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN), a regional effort to develop and provide early detection and response resources for invasive species, relies on citizens to report observations of invasive plants. Download the MISIN app on your smartphone and help battle invasive species.

Participate in monarch butterfly studies
Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to mountains in central Mexico, where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. To understand the monarch migration, researchers rely on the help of community scientists to collect data during all phases of the annual life cycle of monarch breeding, migrating and overwintering. There are several monarch projects you can get involved in. Learn more about how you can help study monarch butterflies.

Get involved in Caterpillars Count!
Caterpillars Count! is a project for measuring the seasonal variation and abundance of arthropods like caterpillars, beetles and spiders found on trees and shrubs. Arthropods are an important food source for birds and other wildlife. They also have economic and environmental impacts on our forests and crops. Project participants collect data by conducting surveys on trees and shrubs and recording all the arthropods observed. Researchers use this data to relate trends in arthropod populations to bird population trends in those same areas, and to better understand how changes in climate and land use impact the plants and animals around us. Get involved in Caterpillars Count!

Share observations to help conserve plants
You can experience the magic of nature while contributing to the fight to save it by joining Budburst, a community-focused, data-driven approach to plant conservation that allows you to track the effects of climate change with the touch of a button. Observing plants and pollinators is critical to understanding how our environment is responding to the changes in our climate, and these observations come from community scientists like you. Learn more about participating in Budburst.

Collect hydrology data
CrowdHydrology makes it easy for people to send water-level data - no special apps or technologies needed. Learn how to send Michigan water-level data to CrowdHydrology.

Share observations with iNaturalist
Explore and share your observations of the natural world with the iNaturalist app and help scientists and resource managers understand when and where organisms occur. You also can connect with experts who can identify the organisms you observe, find a project with a mission that interests you or run a Bioblitz, an event where people try to find as many species as possible. Learn more about signing up for iNaturalist.

Report a bird with a band
The federal Bird Banding Laboratory is an integrated scientific program established in 1920 supporting the collection, archiving, management and dissemination of information from banded and marked birds in North America. This information is used to monitor the status and trends of resident and migratory bird populations. You can report a banded bird at ReportBand.gov.

Become a Nature's Notebook observer
Submit observations to help scientists take the pulse of the planet by joining Nature's Notebook, which tracks seasonal changes in plants and animals. Data collected help predict threats to people and the environment and help guide decisions like when to harvest or irrigate land or when to conduct controlled burns in forests. Program participants observe nature in their backyard or nearby area weekly and enter this information online. Learn more about becoming a Nature's Notebook observer.

Participate in NestWatch
NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. Participating in NestWatch is easy, and just about anyone can do it. Learn more about becoming a Nestwatcher.

Monitor local frog populations
FrogWatch USA invites individuals and families to learn about the wetlands in their communities and help conserve amphibians by reporting data on the calls of local frogs and toads. Learn more about getting involved in FrogWatch USA.

Become an ISeeChange community member
Join ISeeChange, a global community that posts about what they notice changing in the environment. Each post is synced with weather and climate data and broadcast to the community to investigate bigger-picture climate trends. Over time, community members can track how climate is changing season by season and understand its impacts on daily life. Learn more about joining ISeeChange.

Be part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network
Every drop counts! Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network  volunteers learn how to measure precipitation using a rain gauge and hail pad, record their data and report their measurements online. Data collected complements observations made by the National Weather Service and is used by local meteorologists, researchers, emergency managers, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, teachers and others. Learn more about becoming a CoCoRaHS volunteer observer.