Citizen Science

Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School high schoolers found a Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) while conducting studies on Betty Creek, a mountain stream that runs through their campus. The Hellbender is the largest salamander in North America and is becoming rare in mountain streams because of excess sedimentation and other stressors.

Students involved in the Coweeta Schoolyard LTER program are engaged in real and relevant research through citizen science. Citizen science, simply put, is the involvement of non-scientists in the scientific process. It is accomplished through projects ranging from tagging Monarch butterflies in the fall as part of the University of Kansas’s Monarch Watch program or collecting stream water from a local creek to assess phosphate levels as part of an assessment on local water quality.

We currently have two major citizen science projects at Mountain View Intermediate School in Macon County, NC (5th-6th grade) and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Rabun County, GA (6th-12th grades).

Long-term stream monitoring
Students at Mountain View Intermediate School are monitoring the biotic, physical, and chemical changes in Porters Creek, a small second order stream that flows through campus. Students will follow similar protocols as Coweeta LTER scientists in monitoring their stream. The stream is currently severely incised and shows signs of stress from excessive sedimentation. Coweeta LTER has partnered with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, Little Tennessee Watershed Association, and Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District to come up with funding to help restore reaches of the stream. Students will have a first hand look at stream restoration and have an opportunity to assess the success (or failure) of this restoration project.

Students at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School will also be monitoring an impacted stream that runs through their campus, following the same protocols as Mountain View Intermediate School. The results of their findings will be used to inform land management decisions on the school’s property.




Students gasp in excitement as a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is released after being banded

Biological surveys
Students at both schools are conducting biological surveys on the school campus. At Mountain View Intermediate School, students have conducted stream macroinvertebrate surveys, as well as butterfly surveys. They have also taken part in Monarch Watch, a national citizen science program where participants tag Monarch butterflies on their journey south to overwinter in the Transvolcanic Mountains of Mexico.

Students at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee are conducting herpetological surveys to assess reptile and amphibian richness on the schools 1,300 acres. They have placed salamander cover boards, stream salamander leaf litter bags, and reptile tins to survey herpetofauna on their property.

Based on their findings, surveys from both schools will help guide land management decisions at both schools, making these surveys not only fun, but also relevant.

Bird banding
Coweeta LTER has partnered with Southern Appalachian Raptor Research (SARR) and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) to establish a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship ( MAPS) station at Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, a property owned and managed by LTLT for the conservation of natural resources, including wildlife. MAPS is operated by the Institute for Bird Populations to monitor bird populations in North America. Volunteers, including summer camps, assisted in collecting the data while learning more about bird biology and conservation.