Citizen Science

Citizen science, the involvement of volunteers in data collection, has increased the scale at which ecological research can be conducted. The benefits for the field of ecology lie in understanding processes occurring at broad geographic scales and over long time periods. Our lab focuses on the analysis of these massive data sets to study topics ranging from climate induced shifts in migration phenology to examining changes in animal community composition and population dynamics. Using data from citizen science projects such as Project FeederWatch, eBird, Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and North American Breeding Bird Survey, we investigate these ecological phenomena across large swaths of North America. We believe that the fusion of citizen science with advances in statistical modeling has and will open new areas of research for studying ecological patterns and processes.

FeederWatch map of North America with all details of the map “drawn” simply by placing participants’ locations (latitude and longitude) as points in two-dimensional space. Cities, towns, and population centers become obvious, because FeederWatch data are typically gathered in backyards. (Inset: closer view of Northeastern North America).


Current Projects

Snapshot Wisconsin

2012-07-10 20-25-05 M 1_3

A family of bears investigating a wildlife cam.

As part of a project funded by NASA and in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Townsend Lab, and Zooniverse, we are currently studying patterns of species distribution and abundance across the state with a citizen powered remote camera effort: Snapshot Wisconsin. Wisconsin residents can apply to host a trail-camera here, and all interested parties may contribute to image classification here.






Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II
Breeding bird atlases are a global exercise critical for documenting changes in bird populations and distributions. We are collaborating with the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to implement a rigorous point count methodology to estimate statewide patterns of breeding bird abundance and occupancy based on observations collected by citizen scientists. The information gathered by citizen scientists allow us to track avian populations and their distributions over decades of environmental change. People interested in helping conserve Wisconsin’s breeding birds please visit here! The images below were captured during point counts from the 2016 season.


Recent related publications

Zuckerberg, B., D. Fink, F. A. La Sorte, W.M. Hochachka, and S. Kelling. 2016. Novel seasonal land-cover associations for eastern North American forest birds identified through dynamic species distribution modeling. Diversity and Distributions 22(6): 717-730. Link

Strong, C., B. Zuckerberg, J. L. Betancourt, and W. D. Koenig. 2015. Climatic dipoles drive two principal modes of North American boreal bird irruption. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(21): E2795-E2802. Link

K. Princé and B. Zuckerberg. 2015. Climate change in our backyards: the reshuffling of  North America’s winter bird communities. Global Change Biology 21 (2): 572-585. Link to paperLink to Science Magazine Article

B. Zuckerberg, E. J. Ross, K. Princé, and D. N. Bonter. 2015. Climate variability on wintering grounds drives spring arrival of short-distance migrants to the Upper Midwestern United States. Studies in Avian Biology.

Jones, G.M., B. Zuckerberg, and A. Paulios. 2012. The early bird gets earlier: a phenological shift in migration timing of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in the state of Wisconsin. Passenger Pigeon 74(2): 131-142.

Dickinson, J.L., B. Zuckerberg, and D.N. Bonter. 2010. Citizen science as an ecological research tool: Challenges and benefits. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 41: 149-72. Link