LINCOLN PARK — You, too, can be an urban wildlife spotter and help the Lincoln Park Zoo complete the largest study of its kind of wild animals in Chicago.
The zoo has paired up with the Adler Planetarium to launch a Web-based citizen science initiative to help classify animals captured by cameras throughout the Chicago area.
The zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute has captured more than 1 million photographs of beavers, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, woodchucks and other animals and needs help identifying the animals.
The backlog of photos is more than a year old, and there aren't enough interns at the zoo to put a dent in it.
To remedy this, the zoo turned to the Adler Planetarium's Zooniverse development team, which has created more than 30 online citizen science projects including one that resulted in the discovery of four exoplanets.
With the public's help, the Chicago Wildlife Watch seeks to build the largest urban wildlife database in the world.
Those who want to participate can do so through by simply viewing photographs at www.chicagowildlifewatch.org and answers basic questions to narrow down the possibility of what the species of an animal in the photo could be.
The questions mainly focus on the animal's coat, tail and build as well as how many animals are in the photograph.
“The technology uses methods created by the Zooniverse that have been tested in more than 30 citizen science projects,” said Laura Whyte, director of the Adler Planetarium Citizen Science Department. “The public can be rest assured that their efforts will produce scientifically valid results.”
So far, 65 different species have been captured on the motion-triggered cameras that are set up four times a year at more than 100 sites such as city parks, forest preserves and cemeteries.
The goal is to assess to biodiversity of Chicago and the suburbs to help researchers apply the findings to wildlife policy and conservation efforts, according to researchers with the zoo.
The findings will also help land managers to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
“As Chicago is doubling its green space by 2040 (according to the GO TO 2040 plan), we want to make sure we are doing that in the smartest way we can," said Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the zoo.
The Chicago Wildlife Watch is the first time Adler's team has helped create a project that focuses on science in its own backyard.
Previous citizen science projects Adler has launched under Zooniverse as a partnership with the University of Oxford engaged more than 1.1 million online volunteers.
Zooniverse's Moon Zoo project seeks to map the lunar surface's craters and so far people have classified more than 3.7 million images.
Asteroid Zoo enlists the public to help hunt for asteroids within our solar system.
"This project for us is really exciting because it was a chance to do something directly related to Chicago," Whyte said.
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