How hikers can help science

The Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN) calls on mountain enthusiasts to help collect observations of mountain plants.

Heading to the mountains this summer, armed with your best hiking boots? You can make a scientific contribution while you are out conquering some peaks! Your observations of some indicator plant species can help ecologists understand the effects of climate change and track the spread of invasive species.

Citizen science projects are hot: projects in which volunteers and scientists join their forces to answer real-world questions and gather data. Such projects exist in countless disciplines, involve hundreds of thousands of volunteers and have recently helped achieve some important scientific break-throughs, like finding supernova’s in outer space and disentangling the complex structure of proteins. MIREN, an international network of mountain ecologists who study plant invasions, is now launching its own citizen science project. All you need are some good hiking boots, a smartphone or a gps, and a destination!

To help us understand how climate change is affecting the distribution of invasive species, hikers simply need to keep their eyes peeled for 4 common species, take a picture and upload their observations through the iNaturalist smartphone app, or mark their find in their gps. That’s all. We gather all this information from all these hiked trails all over the world, and use the information to get the most detailed idea of the distribution of mountain invaders ever.

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We focus on common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata), red clover (Trifolium pratense) and white clover (Trifolium repens). These four species can be found on every continent and are renowned for their ability to adapt to changes in their environment. Their chameleon-like powers of adaptation make them perfect indicator species for monitoring rapid responses to climate change and human influences. In the wake of climate change, they have been seen to move towards higher elevations over the years in mountains in Europe. The same European species have also been introduced elsewhere in the world, where they are suspected of invading even more quickly than they do on their home turf..

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The European white clover (Trifolium repens) along a trail in the Chilean Andes

Interestingly, the expansion of these species is closely related to that of another species: us humans. Plants looking for cooler locales cling to cars or hiking shoes and thus often follow roads and trails to find their way up into the mountains.

If you are a mountain scientist, land manager, botanist, teacher, student or any other outdoor enthusiast, you can easily get involved. All detailed information can be found here: http://bit.ly/28ZTfqK or on the MIREN website www.mountaininvasions.org/?page_id=20. Or just easily send us an e-mail at miren.trails@gmail.com.

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One Response to How hikers can help science

  1. Pingback: An overview – part 2 | On top of the world

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