by Doctor Science
I'm finding the news so depressing/enraging/flabbergasting these days that I've taken refuge in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Specifically, helping citizen science projects at the Zooniverse. It's been years since I talked about them, and I'm working on different projects these days.
When I'm in the mood for picking a project, I go to the Zooniverse project page, sort by "Most Help Needed", and test-drive some projects to see how I like them. These days I mostly do "spot and count the animals" projects, because they're easier on my carpal tunnels than many of the others, and I just plain love spotting the animals.
Zooniverse projects are premised on the fact that humans are much better at visual pattern recognition than current computers. In the case of spotting-the-animals, the skill is what 500 million years of evolution trained our visual systems to do: to look at image after image of Coyotes:
and immediately spot the Wolf:
It took a remarkably short time working on Snapshot Wisconsin (where I saw the above pictures) for my brain to learn to tell a coyote from a wolf. This is an example of a task which is much easier for a brain than a computer, which is what the Zooniverse is for.
My favorite current projects, in decreasing order of "Help Needed":
1. Snapshot Wisconsin gets the public involved in monitoring Wisconsin wildlife year-round: the pictures come from camera traps set up by volunteers.
Most common subjects: White-Tailed Deer. Interesting rarities I have seen include: Elk (re-introduced to Wisconsin), Wolf, Sandhill Crane, Fisher, Gray Fox, Bobcat, Flying Squirrel. The images come in sets of 3 that can be run like a mini-GIF (which makes spotting the animals quite easy), many of the animals are familiar, and there aren't all that many different kinds, so this is an easy, rewarding project. Right now they need a lot of help because they just uploaded a new set of images, mostly from this past fall.
A favorite picture:
Doe and Fawn, mutually grooming.
2. Western Shield -- Camera Watch is comparing areas of the south-western jarrah forest where foxes and feral cats have been excluded to areas where these introduced predators are still present, to see the effect on native species.
Most common subjects: Grey Kangaroo and Black-Gloved Wallaby. I guess more than 80% of the images are of one of these two species, you will get *really* good at recognizing them. Interesting others I have seen include: Emu, Monitor Lizard, Echidna, Woylie, Kangaroo and Wallaby joeys in the pouch. *Lots* of birds, a definite plus for me. Images in sets of 3, not very many species, and you get to see Australia, which is really strange to the eyes of someone from another continent.
A favorite picture:
Black-Gloved Wallabies, including joey leaning out of the comfy pouch to pick up a snack.
3. Camera CATalogue is trying to track Leopards, in particular. You identify animals in the images, and say which *side* of the animal you can see. The goal, as I understand it, is to create databases of leopard sightings in various parts of Africa, and to track individual leopards by their spot patterns.
Most common subjects: Nothing Here, and Fire -- up to 80-90% of images (at least in the current batches). After that, though, the animal images are often of very high quality, with clear pictures of a wide variety of interesting African animals. Elephant, Impala, Hippopotamus, Warthog, Cheetah, Sable Antelope, Buffalo, Giraffe, Jackals, Serval, Hyena: it's as good as a zoo. The images come through in batches from different regions in southern Africa, and each batch doesn't stay up all that long -- the animals tend to be easy to ID, so the project has only about 5 views per image.
A favorite picture:
4. Wildcam Gorongosa is monitoring the return of wildlife to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, where large mammals were almost wiped out during the 1977-1992 civil war. There are a lot of cameras and images are uploaded pretty frequently (not just in "seasons" or batches), so the project almost always Needs Help.
Most common subjects: Baboon, Warthog, Bushbuck. Baboons almost always are in groups, often with interesting (or cute) behavior. Other notable creatures I've seen: Mongoose, Lion, Elephant, Sable Antelope, Owl, Serval, Ground Hornbill, and Pangolin. The images are captured one at a time, but there's a web app where you can see images in sequence, to better determine what you're looking at.
One of my favorites:
This pregnant Impala is the first to arrive for the herd's breakfast gathering, which you can follow in a long series of images starting here.