Exploring a Culture of Health: Repurposing Medicine to Help More People

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How can we use medication efficiently to help more people? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. While at the same time one in four working adults cannot afford their medication. It is a confusing and unnecessary contradiction.

Fortunately innovative organizations recognize that by recycling or repurposing medication it is possible to limit waste and conserve resources while helping individuals live healthier lives.
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Exploring a Culture of Health: Reimagining Medical and Health Education

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How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

What we know about health and medicine is ever changing and improving. So should the way we teach and learn about it.

For several years now, Khan Academy has been reimagining teaching and improving access to education. As part of their mission to provide “a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere”, they develop free online video lessons to help students, teachers, and parents tackle subjects ranging from algebra to art history to computing. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), they are now turning their attention to medical and health education.

“We need more effective ways to spread knowledge about health and medicine and online tools seem to have a lot of potential in this respect,” explains Michael Painter, senior program officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “With Khan Academy’s focus on disrupting traditional approaches to education and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s interest in disrupting traditional notions of health and medicine it seemed like a good match.”

There is an enormous quantity of potential health and medical content that can be taught. Khan and RWJF decided to focus on developing student preparation resources for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the exam prospective students must take for admission into medical school.

Recognizing that many individuals are passionate about education, Khan Academy hosted a content competition to find talent. Khan Academy was looking for submissions, which were informative, engaging, and well-constructed. Many winners were residents and young medical faculty. They were treated to a video ‘boot camp’ to hone their video making skills before they were let loose to create their instructional videos. A second competition was completed this past spring to refresh the first cohort of video makers. To make sure the content is accurate, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is overseeing a review of the content before it is posted online.

These videos are part of Khan’s Health and Medicine catalogue. The section has a growing library of content covering a range of topics including cardiovascular diseases, the musculoskeletal system, and cognition. It also has information about general health and fitness and as well as a section on understanding lab test results. Within each topic module there are several videos that sequentially guide the viewer through the relevant material. Some modules contain a comprehension quiz. While the content is geared towards healthcare trainees and practitioners, all are relevant and viewable for the general public.

“This is a platform to provide free, high-quality resources in the area of health and medicine. We want to offer a deep learning experience that is accessible to anyone, anywhere.  As such, we try to avoid using jargon and don’t always assume a pre-existing base of medical knowledge.  For instance, our video on anemia breaks down the complexities of oxygen delivery in the body by drawing an analogy, and using clear language appropriate for anyone interested in learning about the disease,” says Rishi Desai, MD, MPH the Khan Academy medical partnership program lead.

Building on its work with the MCAT, Khan Academy is in the process of generating content in collaboration with the Association of American Colleges of Nursing and the Jonas Center to offer preparation materials for the NCLEX-RN, the registered nurses licensing exam.

“We believe efforts such as these will make significant improvements in the education of health care providers and ultimately in the care they deliver to patients,” says Painter.

What ways can you think of to improve health and medical information? Leave a comment below.

***

What to expand your science knowledge? Check out these free online science learning resources.

VisionLearning is an online resource for undergraduate level science education. Lessons are organized in concise and engaging modules interspersed with comprehension check points and animations to keep students engaged. Material is created by professional scientists and educators. In addition the site provides resources for helping educators create a lesson plans. Read a more detailed description here.

The National Science Digital Library This site provides a collection of free resources and tools which support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.  Resources include activities, lesson plans, websites rosters, simulations, or other materials to facilitate STEM education.

Citizen Science Academy A tool for educators interested in incorporating citizen science projects in their curriculum. Courses and tutorials help guide educators through the process. There are also opportunities for continuing education credits.

 

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Super Moon, Super Meteor Showers, Super Citizen Science

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On Sunday August 10, join Slooh and citizen scientists as they observe the Super Moon.

Don’t miss a live interview (Sunday at 7:30 ET) with SciStarter’s founder Darlene Cavalier on Slooh, the telescope and astronomy website devoted to stars and the cosmos.

 

Credit NASA

There is a tendency to prefix anything dramatic, unusual or super with…well, the prefix ‘super,’ which is partly why the Moon is called super twice more this year. Let me explain.  When a new Moon coincides with the closest approach the Moon has on its elliptical path to the Earth (because of this the Moon’s orbit typically varies between about 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth), it actually appears from 7 to 30 percent larger and brighter, especially when it’s close to the horizon. That happens on the 10th of August—tomorrow—and again on the 9th of September 2014.  Slooh will be broadcasting live coverage of the event.

The term ‘super moon’ is not used in professional astronomical circles, but rather has its roots in modern astrology—the high tides created at this time are believed by some to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and it has actually been blamed for sinking the Titanic (although there has not been any evidence to support this), and for the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

What’s so super about the Moon this weekend? The perigee (that’s what astronomers call it) will coincide with meteor showers. Named Perseid, it is possible to see as many as 100 shooting stars every hour; probably peaking between August 10 and August 13, with the best time to view the shower at about 2 am.


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Citizen Science, Shark Week Edition

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It’s Shark Week for Citizen Scientists!

It’s that time of year again. (Cue Jaws theme song.) Discovery Channel’s Shark Week starts on August 10th! But rather than fear these beautiful creatures, participate in projects to help advance research about sharks!

Hey! If you’re involved in more than one citizen science project, we’d like to hear from you. Email carolyn@scistarter.com to find out why (we’ve got a free t-shirt for you!).


 

Wildbook for Whale Sharks
Share your photographs of whale sharks and Wildbook’s pattern recognition software will distinguish between individual sharks by identifying skin patterns behind the gills of each shark! The photos you share will be used in mark-recapture studies to help with the global conservation of this threatened species.Get started!

 

Sevengill Shark Sightings, San Diego
If you spot a Sevengill Shark while on a dive, be sure to snap a photo or record video. Images can be uploaded to a pattern recognition program to track Sevengill sharks! Get started!

 

New England Basking Shark Project
The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance invites boaters, fishermen, and divers to report their sightings and send in their photos of basking sharks. Help monitor the local population and migration patterns.  Get started!

 

Shark Trust: Great Eggcase Hunt
Prefer a casual stroll on the beach? Report findings of shark egg cases (“mermaid’s purses”) washed up on the beach. An eggcase contains one embryo which will develop over several months into a miniature shark, skate or ray. Once empty, the eggcases often wash ashore, indicating the location of nurseries, which provides species information on abundance and distribution!  Get started!

This originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.


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Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Navigating the Path Towards Responsible Personal Health Data Research

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The Personal Health Data Ecosystem. How Can it be Used for Public Good? (Image Credit: Health Data Exploration)

The Personal Health Data Ecosystem. How Can it be Used for Public Good? (Image Credit: Health Data Exploration)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come. With the advent of health-related wearable devices and apps, more and more individuals are actively tracking their personal health. In addition to physiological measurements like heart rate or blood pressure, these tools also enable individuals to record and analyze their behavior such as physical activity, diet and sleep. (See image below). Individuals are able to build reliable records of their personal health data with day-to-day resolution. Now, researchers are interested in using this data to better inform health research.
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COASST: Monitoring Seabirds of the Pacific Northwest

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Identify beached birds and help monitor the health of the coastal ecosystem.

Do you enjoy long walks on the beach while taking in the surrounding wildlife? Are you concerned about environmental issues and passionate about community projects? Are you ready for commitment?

If so, then you might just be perfect match for COASST. (Did you think this was something else?)

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, or COASST, is a Pacific northwest seabird monitoring citizen science project. COASST was established about 10 years ago by Dr. Julia Parrish of the University of Washington. She wanted to address the need for continuous monitoring of coastal ecosystems. Long-term, large-scale monitoring of coastal marine life is important for understanding the health of coastal ecosystems. The data establishes a baseline from which to assess changes due to natural or man-made causes, which is critical for informed coastal conservation and managements plans. It is also a huge undertaking.

That is where you, the citizen scientist, come in.

“COASST relies on the efforts of volunteers to help monitor over 400 survey sites,” says COASST volunteer coordinator Erika Frost. What started out ten years ago as a small band of twelve volunteers surveying five beaches has grown to include almost 500 volunteers monitoring beaches in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and northern California. Run through the University of Washington, it has the support of various state, federal and tribal agencies as well as environmental organizations and community groups.

The success of COASST relies on the dedication and quality of work provided by its citizen scientists. First time volunteers attend a 6-hour training session to learn how to identify beached birds. Beached birds are the standardized monitoring unit because seabird carcasses regularly come ashore and are far easier to identify correctly than live seabirds. Consistent sampling is critical for producing reliable and useful data, so prospective volunteers must commit to surveying their assigned beach at least once per month. Bird guides and other resources and materials are available through COASST.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_fulmar#mediaviewer/File:Northern-Fulmar2_cropped.jpg

Northern Fulmar

“The average survey site is about 1 km or ¾ of a mile. Although we try to fill our historic sites first, we are happy to establish new survey sites if a volunteer has a stretch of beach in mind that is not currently surveyed,” says Frost. “Once on the beach, volunteers search for bird carcasses that have washed in on the latest tide. Volunteers use the Beached Birds field guide to identify the beach birds they encounter. Using this guide, identification of beached birds is possible, even with just a foot, wing, or bill of a bird by following a series of steps. In addition we ask volunteers to collect data on the human use of their survey site.”

The collected data is quite rigorous. All data is available to be independently verified by experts. Volunteer species identification was 85% accurate across over 100 observed species. “From the data collected by our volunteers, we have established a baseline for seabird mortality on North Pacific beaches. COASST data has also been used for studies on topics such as climate change, bycatch events, oil spills, and harmful algal blooms. We make our data available to individuals, agencies and organizations working to protect the marine environment.” Beached bird patterns are viewable on their website.

There is growing interest among coastal resident to become more actively involved in coastal conservation and resource management. In response, COASST plans to ramp up its coastal collection programs. In the next 10 years, COASST is planning to begin tracking beach pollution and other marine wildlife, in particular invasive species and climate change indicator species.

Resources:
COASST’s blog

Image Credits: NOAA (top); Wikipedia (bottom)

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

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Exploring Citizen Science

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This post, written by Christine Nieves, originally appeared on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneering Ideas blog.  Check out the citizen science projects mentioned in the post, such as: FoldItSound Around You, and FightMalaria@Home.

 

Christine Nieves / RWJF

Christine Nieves / RWJF

I remember the distinct feeling of learning about Foldit. It was a mixture of awe and hope for the potential breakthrough contributions a citizen can make towards science (without needing a PhD!). Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding. In 2011, Foldit users decoded an AIDS protein that had been a mystery to researchers for 15 years. The gamers accomplished it in 3 weeks. When I learned this, it suddenly hit me; if we, society, systematically harness the curiosity of citizens, we could do so much!

This is the spirit behind our recent exploration to learn more about how citizen scientists are addressing some of the most pressing problems in health and health care.

Health-related citizen science projects encompass a wide gamut of areas ranging from oncology and epidemiology to more social aspects such as community health and health care delivery. Citizen participation ranges from game play, with projects like Foldit, to data collection using mobile phones and other devices, such as in the noise pollution research project Sound Around You, and data generation using sampling kits or completing surveys, as with Flu Near You. Other projects, such as FightMalaria@Home simply ask individuals to donate their computer’s processing power.

Through “Exploring a Culture of Health: A Citizen Science Series,” a blog series produced by SciStarter—a place to find and participate in citizen science projects—and Discover Magazine, we have spotlighted some of the ways our grantees are working to improve health, from making doctor visits more effective to boosting the health of whole communities. I hope readers of this series will share their own thoughts and ideas about how citizen scientists can get involved and help advance these efforts.

Check out the latest blog posts and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #citsci:

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Marine Metre Squared: Ngā Tini o te Waitai (The Multitudes of the Sea)

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What lives along New Zealand’s shoreline? Find out, one square metre at a time, with Marine Metre Squared.

Binoculars used as branding to ‘focus’ people in to a specific area.

Every now and again I come across a citizen science project that inspires me. Don’t get me wrong—most of the people I interview, whether they are counting butterflies, measuring the night sky or plotting the paths of ocean behemoths, are in some way stirring, and I am invariably intrigued (and sometimes enchanted) by what they are doing. But only a select few tap the roots of my early childhood aspirations for nature conservation and environmental research. Mothing was one of them. Firefly Watch, which involved intriguing blinking beetles, was another. Now we have Marine Metre Squared (Mm2). It’s difficult to say what makes it inspiring, but I think it has something to do with the enthusiasm the project owners show, how what they are studying reflects the wonder and diversity of life, and just how far the venture has penetrated public awareness. As I write more and more about citizen science, I think of this as a trifecta. When these three intersect a touch of magic is added—something that draws participants toward a lifelong vocation.

“The project is New Zealand based, we want to know what is happening in the New Zealand intertidal zones. However, we have had international visitors complete surveys on New Zealand beaches. It’s an interesting activity and a great way for tourists to explore the New Zealand seashore,” says Tessa Mills, a manager at the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre. “The Seashore ID Guides that we produce are very helpful for anyone joining the Mm2 project—they are taken home as souvenirs by many international visitors!”

A school group makes observations in a plot.

More than 700 people have registered, consisting of a combination of schools (46%), individuals (30%), families (14%), community groups (8%) and tertiary institutions (3%). This is shared equally between the north and south island. “Although not everyone is contributing data we expect that the data submission will grow over time. And the project can be adapted for preschool groups; for example playing eye-spy in a one-meter area. And although they may not be able to identify or count all the species, they may be able to choose one species to look for and count” says Sally Carson, the director of the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre. “Similarly we have had some very knowledgeable individuals say that they have spent almost three hours counting and identifying what is in their square.” To help evaluate the quality of the data collected, the Centre is asking participants to rate the scientific accuracy of the data collected as low, medium or high. That seems to be a unique addition to citizen science—rating the quality of the data you collect is an added element of verification.

The photographic Seashore Guides (Sandy, and Muddy and Rocky) have been incredibly popular with over 140,000 copies being distributed free of charge thanks to Mobil Oil New Zealand Ltd. At first glance, muddy and sandy shores appear barren, but look beneath the surface and you will find a rich diversity of life—as the Maoris say, “Ngā tini o te waitai.” Northern and Southern versions have been compiled to highlight New Zealand’s regional differences. The guides not only feature the plants and animals that live on the shore, but also illustrate the evidence that they leave at the surface; for example, the telltale burrow and volcanic mound of the mantis shrimp. The guide encourages visitors to act as detectives, and find out what lives there without disturbing the habitat.

Sally Carson displays a square meter quadrant.

“We often compare our meter squared quadrant to binoculars. It encourages people to focus on one area and look closer. They are always amazed at what they find,” says Carson. In New Zealand, as in most parts of the world, the coastline is accessible to so many people, yet many know very little about their seashore neighbors. Mm2 hopes this project will help facilitate a global shift towards guardianship of the local environment by the communities that understand the ecosystems they live in and interact with. “While this approach has huge potential, the transition must come with the tools and education to make real community guardianship of the environment successful, and Mm2 is an effective first step in the process,” says Carson. The partnerships that are developing between schools, scientists, community groups and families are key to the success of such an approach. Sounds like fertile soil for that trifecta.

Resources:
Mm2 Guide

Photo credits: Tessa Mills (top), Kimberley Collins (middle left), Sharron Bennett (bottom right)

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Nurses Making Things with their Hands to Improve Healthcare with MakerNurse

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Nurses often innovate on the fly and devise new ways of improving patient care (Image Credit: Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Nurses often innovate on the fly and devise new ways of improving patient care (Image Credit: Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Every day, nurses craft devices out of ordinary materials and hospital supplies to improve health care. These innovations aren’t dreamt up in a lab or by some research facility, they happen in the trenches, at the bedside. Innovation has been a tradition in the nursing profession ever since Florence Nightingale revamped the caregiver role into a respected occupation. Hundreds of articles were published beginning in the early 1900s where nurses shared their own hardware creations with their peers—in 1952 the American Journal of Nursing recorded an event that smacked of ingenuity when it ran a piece that described nurse Paulette Drummonds’ idea to create colorful casts for children.

The trend of nurse ingenuity continued over the years, but somewhat inconspicuously. Today, these nurse creations are often unheralded, denigrated as ’workarounds’ or invisible to bosses and others in the health care system who might benefit from the innovations. This lack of recognition for nurse innovation stirred something in Jose Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young, the duo that created MakerNurse—a project that has its home in the Little Devices Lab at MIT and is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

“We know from our research that some of the best DIY technologies being used in hospitals and clinics around the world are the work of nurses. Yet these stealth innovators do not receive the recognition, support, tools, or training that they need to maximize their ability to transform the way health care hardware is created and used,” says Gomez-Marquez.

Across the nation, nurses are putting their creativity to work as they devise new ways to improve patient care. They are reimagining their supply closet, making custom bandages with advanced antibacterial properties and adapting devices for pediatric care. They are using everyday materials to make patients better, from Legos, to electrical belts, to a humble hospital blanket wrapped in medical tape to make a tiny donut that can cushion a child’s back.

“Nurse are creating these amazing just-in-time creations that are possible thanks to a combination of smart tools and good old fashioned making, customized to individual patients’ needs,” says Young.

A nurse making a prototype with a simulation mannequin (Image Credit: MakerNurse)

A nurse making a prototype with a simulation mannequin (Image Credit: MakerNurse)

MakerNurse hopes to bring these McGyverisms out of the shadows and into the mainstream. It is documenting cases of nurse making to understand more fully how nurses hack, what materials they use, and the obstacles to bringing their ideas into the light.

“We’re trying to understand what drives how those solutions are created at the bedside. What are the motivators, behaviors, and situations that compel a nurse to make? What materials did they use? How do they share their solutions?” says Gomez-Marquez. “We’re hearing from nurses around the country and, as we learn, we’re able to identify tools and prototyping strategies that could help more nurses bring their ideas for improving health care to fruition.”

MakerNurse has set up seven pilot projects in hospitals around the nation to record the solutions nurses are devising to address the various problems that they face. Using advanced prototyping strategies, the Little Devices’ team has deployed a variety of tools and shared methods with nurse units to assist nurses in moving from story to sketch to prototype. It is also collecting nurse stories via its website, a central repository that serves as a nation-wide resource for nurse makers. And in the coming months, it will launch MakerNurse Create, a set of step-by-step instructions on how to make a variety of health-related tools to help kick-start nurses’ medical ingenuity.

“We must nurture the ingenuity of nurses and other makers so we can all benefit from their innovations to improve health,” said RWJF’s Lori Melichar.

Some call them tinkerers, some call them hackers, but all should recognize the contributions that passionate makers are bringing to health care. Have you ever seen a tennis ball on the back feet of a walker? Someone hacked that walker—they don’t come over-the-counter with a tennis ball fitted.

Have you created anything to help you care for sick family members at home? What are your ideas for hacks that could improve the way doctors, nurses and others care for their patients? Tell us in the comments below!

*****

Interested in health related citizen science? There are a number of other projects that are seeking your input as a citizen scientist. The projects below are part of a database of more than 800 citizen science projects created and managed by SciStarter, an online citizen science hotspot.

Project Implicit

DIY BioPrinter

AgeGuess

 

logo

 

 

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Unpredictable and Magical: The Allure of the Dragonfly Swarm [GUEST POST]

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Chris Goforth, the creator of the Dragonfly Swarm Project, discusses how citizen science has impacted the study of dragonfly behavior.

Dragonfly swarm (Photo: David Alexander)

Dragonfly swarm

Sometimes science is hard. If you want to study something that happens slowly, is rare, or requires thousands of observations, it can take a lifetime to answer even the most basic questions. Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, where information and willing helpers are readily available at the tap of a screen or a click of a mouse. The internet has revolutionized science as we know it and has allowed scientists to start answering some of those big or hard questions by inviting participation by citizen scientists. Citizen science today allows us to gather information on an unprecedented scale and is starting to shed light on difficult scientific problems by getting more people on the ground in more places than scientists could ever hope to reach on their own.

Dragonfly swarms are one of those difficult problems to solve scientifically. Researchers have known for decades that you can occasionally find huge groups of dragonflies either flying over a well-defined area as they feed on small insects (what I call static feeding swarms) or moving from one area to another in large migratory swarms. However, both behaviors are rarely observed and unpredictable, which makes them incredibly difficult to study. Even if you actively look for swarms, you may only see a couple dozen over your entire life. (I’ve seen 11 so far, and that’s a LOT more than most people will ever see!) One person’s swarm observations are not enough to answer the larger questions about how and why they form or what role they play in the environment.  Citizen science comes to the rescue!

Anax junius (Photo: Chris Goforth)

Anax junius

In 2010, I created the Dragonfly Swarm Project as a way to answer some of those big questions about dragonfly swarming behaviors. By simply asking people who have seen swarms to share their stories with me, I have so far been able to gather over 3100 observations of this rarely observed behavior worldwide. With the help of my citizen scientists, many of whom have only seen a single swarm, I’ve gathered a huge amount of information about dragonfly swarming behaviors and have learned some interesting things.

Static feeding swarms tend to form in areas where disturbances have occurred, such as exceptionally strong winds, severe thunderstorms, floods, or wildfires. When a disturbance moves through an area, millions of small insects become suddenly displaced. Other disturbances, such as floods, can increase the amount of breeding habitat for some insects, resulting in population explosions. In either case, you’ll see huge numbers of insects in abnormal places with dragonfly feeding swarms forming shortly afterwards. I believe that dragonfly swarms help restore the balance of nature after disturbances by controlling these surges in prey insect populations.

Migratory swarms, in contrast, come in two types. There is a huge annual fall migration of dragonflies along major rivers and coastlines in North America where millions to billions of dragonflies fly from their summer habitats thousands of miles to warmer, more hospitable places for the winter. However, large groups of migratory dragonflies may also occur whenever conditions deteriorate in an area and thousands or millions of dragonflies suddenly move en masse to a better location. This sort of migration is much rarer and far less understood. My project will provide one of the first detailed descriptions of this behavior once I formally publish my results early next year.
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