Monday, May 18, 2015

Citizen scientists aid research

Fairbanks elementary and middle school students are helping SNRE’s OneTree Alaska program conduct science.

Fourth-grade student Peyton Ferguson sorts birch seeds in an Anne Wien Elementary School classroom.

Research Assistant Professor Jan Dawe has been working with eight classrooms this spring to resolve an ongoing question: How are local birch trees responding to climate change? She said some students just wanted to know what was behind “all those brown things on the ground.”

Dawe said birch trees put out an unusually high number of seeds last year. She also noticed that there were few male catkins on birch branches last fall and very few female catkins on branches this spring. The male catkins produce pollen needed for pollination.

About 150 students used branches harvested this March at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to count the number of seeds produced last year and also to count the number of male and female catkins.

“This is citizen science data we will use,” said Dawe.

Dawe said the students were enthusiastic. One fourth-grader excitedly brought her teacher a birch branch she found near her home that had a female catkin on it. The activities are part of the OneTree/BAKLAP K-20 STEAM education.

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