BAR HARBOR — The National Science Foundation has awarded $250,000 to the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) Institute for a new project that will involve visitors to the park in hands-on scientific research.
“This partnership brings together three institutions with strong commitments to research, education, and conservation, and will give a new high-tech dimension to ‘citizen science’ in Maine,” says Kevin Strange, director of MDIBL. “It will serve as a model for new collaborations between research institutions and national parks across the United States.”
The project, called “Pathway to BioTrails,” will involve members of the public in monitoring animal and plant species in Acadia National Park and Frenchman Bay using a genetic technique called DNA barcoding. DNA barcoding can help verify that an organism has been identified accurately by comparing its DNA to DNA from specimens previously identified by experts.
Without DNA barcoding, scientists and non-scientists alike can have difficulty identifying which species a given specimen may belong to. That difficulty not only limits the scale and accuracy of potential research projects, it also forces many citizen science projects to spend more energy on species identification and less on the actual scientific and educational goals of the project. DNA barcoding can help validate the tentative identifications made by citizen scientists and can increase both the scientific and educational value of citizen science projects.
The BioTrails project will ultimately offer a range of citizen science projects organized around hiking, cycling and sea-kayaking trails to some of the 2.5 million people who visit Acadia National Park each year. The trails will serve as consistent observation points where specimens and other data can be collected. Research scientists at MDIBL, NPS and the SERC Institute will use this information to address important ecological research questions, such as the relationship between climate change and changes in biodiversity.
“This project enables visitors, research scientists and park staff to work together to help assess the impact of environmental changes on the flora and fauna of Acadia,” says Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele. “We are enthusiastic about creating a new paradigm for educating our visitors about the fragile nature of our ecosystems and engaging them directly in this work.”