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#CrowdCloudLIVE After each episode's WORLD premiere in April, show host, producer, and people seen on the show participated in post-premiere roundtable discussions. Viewers like you listened in, asked questions, and were able to dive deeper into the power of Citizen Science.

Watch the recorded Facebook Live events now. Discover more about how Citizen Science is revolutionizing the ways we gather, analyze, and utilize the data that fuels scientific research, discovery, and community action.

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FALL: Plants, Pollinators & Resilience
A Movement Making a Difference
Q&A with Kerissa Battle

My name is Kerissa Battle, and I’m the Founding Director and President of Community Greenways Collaborative. I’m also the Project Manager for the New York Phenology Project.

How did you get involved with the New York Phenology Project?

I grew up in Jamaica Queens with no real context for the natural world, really at all. As a young adult when I did discover that it existed, I fell in love pretty hard and fast, as young adults do, and headed out west for my ecological training. I focused at first on back country field ecology, wilderness, and big landscapes. This is where I felt conservation was the most important, was in this area of “protected land.” This was where wildness was. The cities that I grew up in and the human landscape was not where I wanted to be and not where I thought much was happening ecologically. I realized at some point that that view was actually contributing to that sense of dichotomy, that polarization. As we all know, nothing actually gets accomplished in polarization. Things get accomplished through integration.

That's why the Citizen Science movement is so powerful. It’s because you're meeting people where they are, in the landscapes they're familiar with, in the places that they know and love, with technology that they're familiar with. All those small green spaces that are woven throughout the human landscape are providing ecosystem services that are often overlooked. When you meet people where they are with the technology that they're familiar with, grassroots community type of networks can form and thrive in a way that you then don't need the cumbersome organizational infrastructure around them that's expensive and difficult to fund.

The New York Phenology Project (NYPP) was funded on very, very little. The nature of it was to meet people where they were, to use iPhone apps, and to actually get them to just watch the places they're already going and already visiting. Maybe some new places here and there, but places they are familiar with. We can tell a lot scientifically with this type of data about what's actually happening in the places where people live. Now don't get me wrong, wilderness is vital and land preservation is vital, but that sweet spot, that integration between the human landscape and the natural landscape is the place where we're going to get the information we need to address global change issues.

What is the “Nature’s Notebook” app?

The National Phenology Network has created this incredible resource, this observing platform called Nature's Notebook that has an app that goes along with it. Each person has their own observation deck and account that's linked to that observation deck. Each group, each monitoring site, has their plants listed and then every observer can see that. What happens is people come out, let's say each person within that particular site network will come out once or twice a week. If you think about it, if you have even 10 observers, the likelihood (is greater) that somebody's coming out almost every day and, of course, more if you have 60 people.

What's amazing about these big data platforms is it allows for projects to emerge from the ground up because the infrastructure, the hardest part about these big research projects is creating the data platforms that you can actually manage. Here's the cloud. You're just sending your data off to the cloud. I don't have to manage it. I don't have to run the programs. It allows for a very small amount of funding to get really major programs started because that infrastructure already exists. It's a real gift to those of us who are trying to both address these big, ecological questions and engage communities in helping to answer these questions.

And when you’re going to build a network from the ground up, New York is the place to do it! There is a lot of “grassroots capital” in the form of high-powered organizations and nature reserves. Jamaica Bay is iconic for bird migration and has a strong urbanization gradient, so we’re able to include a lot of people in working with pollinators and native plant restoration. What we found that's really interesting is some of these self-organizing communities have basically been spawned by some of these sites. This is the beauty of networks and what they're capable of, this possibility for self-replication that allows for ideas and skills and knowledge and methodologies to really grow and change and then feedback to the system.

How does the scientific community benefit from this sort of citizen science?

From an ecological standpoint, we are hoping to build a dataset that can really track how species are responding to climate change and urbanization. Some of that data will take a long time, so networks need to thrive. Species profiles make it easy for observers to submit really high quality data over time. Some of the species that we are working with don’t have high quality data sets so this is baseline data. Scientists are just now getting a first look at what is actually happening phenologically with these species. Some species have historical records that we can look back on and see how the species has shifted over time and space.

What is the main focus of the New York Phenology Project (NYPP)?

Specifically, we are interested in the more tightly bound relationships of plants and pollinators, to be able to track that synchronization. That is where you can take some measures for conservation. Honey bees are getting a lot of attention, but a lot of native bees are also endangered. If you know a particular bumble bee’s preferred flower, you can build native habitat that suits them. Some of the teachers at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge build native bee hotels you can put in cities to create habitat in back yard. A lot of studies are highly focused on birds, there is a long history of citizen science in that area of study. But currently that is not the case in the pollinator world, it’s something we and other organizations like the Xerces society put a lot of energy into. The more data the better!

Soon, students will be coming out to pick seeds and plant them in conservation patches. ANYONE can make a difference. Even in a tiny little patch, like somebody’s back yard, can provide incredible habitat for pollinators. Our goal is to create enough habitat, a mosaic of green space, for pollinating organisms to move across the urban landscape.

What's a “phenophase” and why does a phenophase change make you so excited?

The word phenology is the study of the timing of life cycle events in the natural world. Pheno is Greek, it means "to show" or "to appear." Phenophase means the span of time that that particular phenology is happening with that organism. When a tulip tree is flowering, it's in its flowering phenophase. It's a way to mark the time that it's in that life cycle event. What we're looking at in the NYPP is whether these phenophases are matched up, because there is concern about a synchronization between organisms and the other organisms that depend on them. For example, the bees that depend on a tulip tree, if the flowers are emerging or blossoming at a different time than what they've been doing for previous years, then the organism might not be matched to that timing of that phenophase.
As a scientist, obviously, that was the primary reason for setting up this monitoring site and this network in general. But what I ended up learning as I started to delve deeper into phenology and plant-pollinator synchronization, I realized that I started to walk smaller areas. Instead of going all over the landscape to do these big ecological surveys and heading out into the wilderness and the backcountry and all that, I started to watch smaller places for longer periods of time. As each season went by, and as I watched each of these individual plants or trees, I started to notice (take note) in a way that I had never noticed before. This completely changed my relationship with my own field, with my own career, because it wasn't as much about that categorizing and trying to see and learn as many landscapes as possible. It became this longer term relationship with organisms, and really developed into a mindfulness practice. It's not just me who feels that way. That's why we even have monks that are interested in doing it!

What matters more, data collection or community engagement?

What is fantastic about the citizen science movement is that you have people who can steward these small green spaces. It allows pollinators to move from patch to patch increasing genetic diversity in plants, if we build it right. When you empower people in their own back yards, at their school, in city parks, in the places they are already going it's more likely you can create connectivity across the landscape. But the only way to know if we’re successful is if you have people tracking it.

I think people are often intimidated by science, which is understandable. Engagement is important, but it is also really important that the scientists get this data. There’s not even close to enough scientistS out there. There is some data for which you need some training, but for this kind of data connection, you need eyes on the ground spread across wide geographic regions, to see the first bud break. To see that first flower open. Volunteers get a lot out of it, but the data is being used, and it’s valuable.

I think a lot of the observers who end up being part of this program, I've had lots of really great conversations where they talk about this life-changing aspect of it. The social stuff is great. The science is great. They feel like they're contributing. But sometimes, people say, "I just didn't even know that I didn't know how to watch, that I didn't know how to notice, until I started doing phenology observations."

People who get involved get to really understand what they are doing. They love knowing that the observation they are contributing to regional and national data sets is being used by scientists. A lot of scientists are starting to recognize that we can’t do it alone, and that having boots on the ground is the only feasible way to get types of data we actually need to answer some of the most pressing questions about global change. The field is growing, and it has become a movement that’s making a difference.