December 4, 2023

Citizen researchers sift, count, and photograph for science

It is also widespread in the state of Hesse: hikers recently spotted a praying mantis in Wetzlar.
Photo: EPA

What birds and insects can be found in the environment, and how dangerous is the pollution of rivers and lakes with microplastics? To answer such questions, scientists also rely on the help of ordinary people.

WThe hat is green, quickly captures prey with impressive claws, and is now also found in central Hesse? It’s a praying mantis. A specimen of the magnificent insect was recently discovered and photographed in the Wetzlar vineyard, a former military training area, by nature lovers who reported their discovery to the Nature Conservation Association of Hesse (NABU). In doing so, they provided important insights into the distribution of the praying mantis, which originally comes from southern Europe but is spreading northward with climate change.

Every year, thousands of people across the state of Hesse work as citizen researchers – thus making important contributions not only to environmental and nature conservation. This swarm intelligence is also used by scientific institutions. For example, Philips University in Marburg has launched or promoted a number of so-called citizen science projects in recent years, each of which has received a very good response, says its spokeswoman. On the initiative of the Department of Physics, for example, citizens were able to participate under scientific guidance in the search for microplastic pollution in sediments from rivers, lakes and beaches.