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Is There a Budding Citizen Scientist in Your Garden?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Scientists need help collecting data

Would you like to share your knowledge of plants and gardening, or become part of a research project that shares your interests? Here is an example of how a research program can open a world of possibilities for the future budding citizen scientist in your garden.


One of my most treasured books is “The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist” by C.L. Stong, published in 1960 and based on the popular (but now defunct) “Amateur Scientist” column that lived within the Scientific American magazine from 1928-2001.

I treasure this book because it represents the golden age of reading and learning about science that was accessible to the common man and young person. It is filled with experiments that were serious, affordable and fun…albeit somewhat dangerous by today’s standards. Possibly that’s what makes it so fun now that I think about it. I challenge anyone to find a modern book that includes a chapter on how to make rocket propellant from scratch.

Why I mention this, is that as a follow-up to yesterday’s article that proposed a solution for scientists faced with a COVID-19 based logistical problem of maintaining their plant, insect and fungi collections by enlisting the help of gardeners, I happened upon an article that describes a similar collaboration between scientists and citizen scientists with research involving spiders.

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Map the Spider Initiative

In a recent posting of Entomology Today, science writer Bridgette Brown describes a recent visit to a lecture held at Tyler Arboretum in suburban Philadelphia, hosted by naturalist Steven Tessler, Ph.D. who was asking for some citizen scientist assistance with his "Map the Spider" initiative.

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Doctor Tyler studies an elusive purseweb spider species known as Atypus snetsingeri, which is found only in southeastern Pennsylvania. Collecting data on the locations and life cycles of the spider is laborious and time-intensive, thereby necessitating some outside-the-lab field assistance. As it turned out, these same spiders occupy the massive grounds of the arboretum.

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Through the assistance of the arboretum’s outreach coordinator and the arboretum’s volunteer program, Dr. Tessler was able to create a citizen science project called “Spider Watch.”

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Spider Watch, which invites like-minded arboretum volunteers to lend a helping hand in gathering data for Dr. Tyler, assist by “…locating, marking and observing webs for specific surveys; and assisting with development of non-destructive methods for population surveys and making direct observations of spiders and their webs.”

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The success of his citizen scientist program has led Dr. Tyler to recommend to other scientists and experts with possible citizen-science projects in mind, to consider the value of enlisting help from an interested public. Resources may be found at local arboretums, nonprofit conservation groups, colleges and outdoor clubs.

Where You Fit In

While the Spider Watch program might not be your interest—this is a gardening and plant biology focused health site after all—if you know where to look there is a world of possibilities that could be tapped into. I would recommend trying out the two matching services listed by science writer Bridgette Brown where not just academic scientists, but amateur scientists as well can find help with matching projects and people through services such as volunteermatch.org and meetup.com.

And, if you have a budding young gardener in your home, this could be an excellent way to introduce some education with civic duty to foster good growth in your home and child’s future. At least it’s probably safer than building rockets and x-ray machines from scratch using an outdated Scientific American publication.

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If you are interested in using your science and gardening skills to assist in academic research or would like to take part in a like-minded interest group that involves your gardening interests, let us know so that we can gauge the level of interest in these type of garden and plant biology topics for our website.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Pixabay


1. “Building a Web of Connection: Spiders, Citizens, and Scientists” By Brigette Brown; Entomology Today, April 2020.

2. “Map the Spider—Find the secretive purse-web spider” http://www.mapthespider.com

3. “Projects for the Amateur Scientist Scientific American” from the “Internet Archive”