North Carolina scientists are asking everyday citizens to help them collect data on state wildlife. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences along with North Carolina State University and the State Wildlife Resources Commission are lending out motion-sensing cameras that citizens can set up in their backyards or state parks to capture photos of unsuspecting animals.
"The great thing about working with citizen scientists is it allows us to collect good scientific data at a statewide scale," Museum of Natural Zoologist Roland Kays said.
Scientists will use the photos to answer questions about the growth and decline of different species. Kays said one of the main questions scientists want to answer is the impact of coyotes on the deer population.
"In general, we think there's been an increase in coyotes in the state, but we don't really know if it's leveled off, or if it's still increasing," he said. "There's all sorts of ideas out there. But there's really no good data about coyotes at this scale. "
The project, called North Carolina's Candid Critters, aims to get cameras to 20,000 to 30,000 sites across the state over the next three years. Kays said researchers want representation from both urban and rural areas.
"This is a new large-scale effort. It's really by order of magnitude bigger than anything we've tried before," he said. "And so we're a little bit nervous about having enough people and not drowning in so many photographs. But we think we can do it, and we're excited to see what we discover."
Volunteers will need training and can either use their own approved motion-sensing camera, or can borrow one at a participating library. The project is purchasing about 500 cameras to lend out to the public. The photos are uploaded to an online database that scientists can use for research.
The project will launch first in eastern North Carolina this winter, and then expand to the rest of the state.