A tiny seed clam (Pisidium sp.) from Headquarters Lake was identified using a LifeScanner DNA barcoding kit (http://bit.ly/1XiwOkA).

A tiny seed clam (Pisidium sp.) from Headquarters Lake was identified using a LifeScanner DNA barcoding kit (http://bit.ly/1XiwOkA).

Refuge Notebook: Online citizen science: Making your interests count

Many of us who spend time on the Kenai Peninsula have to some extent been drawn by our love of nature.  Midsummer traffic slow-downs at seemingly every big, hairy creature demonstrate our desire to document and share about the natural world through photographs and, more recently, via social media.

I encourage you to feed this desire to know about and share your discoveries. The venues for learning, documenting, and sharing have become ever more convenient, informative, and useful.

Birders were some of the earliest to take this kind of hobby online with ebird (http://www.ebird.org/), a hub where bird sightings, photographs, and checklists are shared among the birding (and science) community. Sightings are reviewed by local experts and become publicly available so that anyone can see where and when to see birds locally. A free app for iOS, eBird Mobile, makes it even easier and more convenient to record avian observations as they happen.

My favorite resource of this genre is iNaturalist (http://www.inaturalist.org/), which accommodates photos, sounds, and observations of basically any living thing. Observations are reviewed by the community, improving their quality and facilitating a social media dimension where members follow, comment on, and learn from each other’s contributions. A free iNaturalist app is available for both iOS and Android platforms, enabling users to easily add their observations from anywhere.

On the science fiction end of the spectrum is LifeScanner (http://www.lifescanner.net/), a consumer-ready kit designed to enable identifications of just about any animal by sequencing a small portion of its DNA. Each $35 kit includes four small vials filled with a non-toxic DNA preservation fluid. Collected samples are mailed to a DNA sequencing facility and soon the identifications appear on the user’s mobile device via the free LifeScanner app for iOS.

These DNA-based identifications open wide the possibilities of learning about those hard-to-know creatures like insects, worms, marine invertebrates, and other animals for which photographs are usually inadequate for identifications. After trying out a kit myself (results: http://bit.ly/1OGNkcE), I ordered LifeScanner kits for my children to teach them about DNA sequencing as a homeschool science project.

Though seemingly old-fashioned compared to LifeScanner, actually collecting specimens remains the most verifiable and often the most informative method of learning about living things. For example, we now have a good knowledge of the Alaskan butterfly fauna thanks to the efforts of Ken Philip and more than 400 volunteers who collected over 100,000 butterfly specimens. You can send insect and spider specimens to the University of Alaska Museum entomology collection (donations: http://bit.ly/1M7d2jW), where the data will be made available through Arctos (http://arctos.database.museum/). A permit may be required for collecting specimens on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

As interesting, educational, and rewarding as these citizen science resources can be for the individual, these efforts become much more meaningful when the data are shared broadly and used. The community science examples I gave above (ebird, iNaturalist, LifeScanner and Arctos) all contribute expert-vetted data to The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (http://www.gbif.org/), the go-to website for worldwide species distribution data.

When people view maps of species occurrence via websites like the Encyclopedia of Life (http://www.eol.org/), observations by members of the public are displayed as dots on the maps, often with opportunities for anyone to learn more through links leading to the original observations.

Here the Kenai Refuge, our biologists tap these data for accomplishing our conservation goals. Congress mandated that the Refuge “conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity,” which specifically included insects and other invertebrates.  Toward this end, we maintain a checklist of the living things that occur on the Refuge, currently 1,865 species including 34 mammals, 154 birds, one amphibian, 20 fish, 629 invertebrates, 673 plants, and 354 fungi.

Please have a look at this list on our website (http://1.usa.gov/1RUstRs) and check out a more interactive but less exhaustive list on iNaturalist.org (http://bit.ly/1XibiME). I invite you to add species to our checklist.  Everyone’s input is needed to help make this list as truthful as possible. Please contact me if you find an error or a questionable record in our checklist.

Many of you are already out and about photographing and sharing the wonders of the natural world that you encounter. I personally offer a small prize (a bottle of sparkling apple cider?) if you can be the first to provide good photo-documentation of either of two species growing on the Kenai Refuge. The first should be relatively easy. Ostrich ferns grow in Homer, Nikiski, and the Kenai Mountains even as close to the Refuge as the Forest Service side of the Russian River. With leaves up to about 4 feet long, this is one of our largest, most conspicuous ferns. The second is moschatel, a charming but easily-overlooked understory plant known locally from Nikiski, Ninilchik, and Homer. Both of these plant species likely live on the Refuge but have yet to be documented within its boundaries.

I ask you to take the next step and post your observations of these two species or any others you find in ways that will benefit the broader science and conservation communities, as well as the subjects of your photos.


Matt Bowser serves as Entomologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find more information at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/kenai/ or http://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.

Ostrich ferns likely occur, but have yet to be documented, on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  It grows abundantly in Nikiski (http://bit.ly/1KmJ2PI) where NRCS botanist Dorothy Wallace-Senft stood adjacent to a stand in 2002 for scale.

Ostrich ferns likely occur, but have yet to be documented, on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It grows abundantly in Nikiski (http://bit.ly/1KmJ2PI) where NRCS botanist Dorothy Wallace-Senft stood adjacent to a stand in 2002 for scale.

More in Life

Powerful truth of resurrection reverberates even today

Don’t let the resurrection of Jesus become old news

Nell and Homer Crosby were early homesteaders in Happy Valley. Although they had left the area by the early 1950s, they sold two acres on their southern line to Rex Hanks. (Photo courtesy of Katie Matthews)
A Kind and Sensitive Man: The Rex Hanks Story — Part 1

The main action of this story takes place in Happy Valley, located between Anchor Point and Ninilchik on the southern Kenai Peninsula

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Chloe Jacko, Ada Bon and Emerson Kapp rehearse “Clue” at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.
Whodunit? ‘Clue’ to keep audiences guessing

Soldotna High School drama department puts on show with multiple endings and divergent casts

Leora McCaughey, Maggie Grenier and Oshie Broussard rehearse “Mamma Mia” at Nikiski Middle/High School in Nikiski, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Singing, dancing and a lot of ABBA

Nikiski Theater puts on jukebox musical ‘Mamma Mia!’

This berry cream cheese babka can be made with any berries you have in your freezer. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A tasty project to fill the quiet hours

This berry cream cheese babka can be made with any berries you have in your freezer

Minister’s Message: How to grow old and not waste your life

At its core, the Bible speaks a great deal about the time allotted for one’s life

Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Stephen McKinley Henderson appear in “Civil War.” (Promotional photo courtesy A24)
Review: An unexpected battle for empathy in ‘Civil War’

Garland’s new film comments on political and personal divisions through a unique lens of conflict on American soil

What are almost certainly members of the Grönroos family pose in front of their Anchor Point home in this undated photograph courtesy of William Wade Carroll. The cabin was built in about 1903-04 just north of the mouth of the Anchor River.
Fresh Start: The Grönroos Family Story— Part 2

The five-member Grönroos family immigrated from Finland to Alaska in 1903 and 1904

Aurora Bukac is Alice in a rehearsal of Seward High School Theatre Collective’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” at Seward High School in Seward, Alaska, on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Seward in ‘Wonderland’

Seward High School Theatre Collective celebrates resurgence of theater on Eastern Kenai Peninsula

Most Read