The Denver EcoFlora Project and Teen Volunteers

August 27, 2020 Volunteer Services

This summer I worked with Head Curator of Natural History Collections and Associate Director of Biodiversity Research Jennifer Ackerfield. Knowing of my interest in aquatic ecology, she assigned me seven watershed plants to identify on the citizen science website iNaturalist for the Denver EcoFlora Project. To date, I have made more than 650 identifications of posted plant photos and submitted 64 of my own observations from Colorado parks and trails. I intend to continue my involvement with the Denver EcoFlora Project for the rest of the summer and beyond. This experience has given me a greater appreciation for Colorado’s ecosystems and how all of us can make a contribution to science. 

A Ph.D. student at Illinois State University contacted me after seeing my photo of field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense). She and her colleagues are studying the genetics of how field pennycress has adapted to its environment. With this research, they hope to understand how the plant and others will respond to climate change. I am working with her to collect samples and send her seeds for analysis. It’s exciting and an honor to be able to contribute to this kind of meaningful research.  

I believe my experiences this summer can provide a template for future teen volunteers. Working with the Denver EcoFlora Project, I have total flexibility with scheduling both site visits and online confirmations, and there is minimal travel or expense involved. In addition, this opportunity builds upon an activity that many people already participate in and enjoy—hiking. The popularity of hiking continues to grow, especially now that people are searching for socially distanced outdoor recreation.

This summer, I have also been volunteering with MSU Denver’s One World One Water (OWOW) program, and there may be an opportunity for OWOW to collaborate with the Denver EcoFlora Project through EcoQuest. Every month, they highlight a plant species to encourage citizen scientists to explore Colorado’s biodiversity and submit their findings to iNaturalist. This platform could perhaps be used to feature watershed plants and, in the process, promote a greater appreciation for water conservation. The more engaged people can become with the environment, the more likely they are to actively fight to preserve it.

This post was written by teen volunteer Emma D.


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