QUECHEE — Science thrives on data, but someone has to go out there and collect it, which is why the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) is beginning and renewing citizen-centric research projects.

“The long-term goal, once COVID is passed and we’ve got that figured out, is to develop a volunteer network to collect this kind of data,” said VINS Research Coordinator Jim Armbruster.

Armbruster has been with VINS since 2014 but his role as research coordinator is new. He is taking the lead on several old and new long-term research projects VINS is working with on its two locations, the 47-acre Nature Center in Quechee and a 327-acre managed forest at the Old Pepper Place Nature Reserve in Washington.

Among the new projects are the Breeding Bird Survey, Game Camera Survey, lake monitoring, a phenology survey. The latter, Armbruster said, is the study of the changing seasons. Data will be collected on plant buds and leaves to determine when the seasons are actually changing and whether that data correlates with other things, such as monarch butterfly migration, which VINS is researching as well.

“We’re looking at long term weather trends that can go into our other projects,” he said.

Also, VINS is helping the White River Partnership to monitor crayfish populations across the state.

“Crayfish are a great indicator of stream health, but the big issue with them here in Vermont is, we have an invasive species, the rusty crayfish, that’s taken over a lot of watersheds,” he said.

The rusty crayfish has been in Vermont for a few years now, but it’s not clear what allowed it to take hold.

“So what we’re looking for is that because we’re getting spring earlier, is that because our climate is warmer than it’s ever been here in Vermont or something like that, is there some change bringing them up to this area and letting them take hold?” proposed Armbruster.

Charles Rattigan, executive director of VINS, said the new breeding bird survey came about in part because of Leonard Reitsma, who recently joined the VINS board of directors. Reitsma is an avian ecologist who helped get the breeding bird survey going.

Rattigan said VINS has volunteers that help collect data, but wants to expand this for several reasons. One, it furthers the group’s mission of education. People learn when they get involved and come to value what they learn about. It’s also so others can benefit from the data collected.

Armbruster said the data VINS collects is or will be publicly available. The state is interested in the water-quality data, and even local municipalities could be interested.

It’s important that data be collected over time, he said.

“We’re looking at trends. Everything is interconnected, from the monarchs to the breeding birds to the weather, how is all that connected, what’s changing?” he said. “As long as VINS is here on this campus, we’re going to go out and we’re going to try and use the same sites we’ve picked out and look at that throughout the years indefinitely.”


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