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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Rob Stevenson

Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Rob Stevenson is an Associate Professor in the Biology Department at UMass Boston where he works on problems related to conservation physiology, environmental informatics and science education. For ten years he and his collaborator Bob Morris have been building tools to make Electronic Field Guides ( 
Rob has been involved with Citizen Science projects that collect data on river herring migration, dandelion flowering, butterfly counts and turtle nesting.

Monitoring Alewife Populations in the Parker River, Massachusetts: Impacts of and Challenges for Citizen Science

Anadromous river herring (the alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus and the blueback, Alosa aestivalis) migrate into rivers of eastern North American to spawn. Beginning in 1997 the Parker River Clean Water Association organized conservation groups and volunteers to monitored the upstream migration of alewives to their breeding habitat in ponds. For the last nine years, 1997 to 2006, the estimated run size averaged less than 3000 fish (range 700-8000) whereas for seven years in the 70's the average was 20,400 (range 6600-38000) indicating a reduction in population size by almost an order of magnitude. The monitoring effort has been instrumental in getting adults and children to the river, garnering funds for restoration of fishways, in modifying constructions projects that impact the river, and for initiating monitoring efforts in other nearby watersheds. Important challenges remain for analyzing data, automating the counting process, forecasting runs and restoring the fish populations.

Electronic Field Guides for Citizen Science

Citizen science often involves some type of biodiversity survey work  identifying birds at a feeder, tally butterflies along a transit or scoring the flowering stage of plants in the schoolyard. For some taxa such as birds and butterflies, we have excellence references to aid in the identification, but for many others such as earthworms, ants and grasses it can be very difficult to get species identified. Even for the taxa with first rate paper field guides, the number of choices in a guide can be numerous and overwhelming for a beginner.

The Electronic Field Guide Project has the goal of making it much easier for naturalists and scientists to make their own field guides, unconstrained by commercial considerations, using open source software. Currently we have a package available at For identification, we support a taxonomic approach based on polychotomous text and picture keys and a naturalist’s approach based on images, plates and comparing a small number of similar species. Field guide authors can make their own keys and searchable species accounts based on text input via a spreadsheet and any type of digital multimedia information such as images or sounds. The guides can be served on the web using standard open sources tools. Options for output include check lists, checklists with thumbnails, keys, a standard EFG, printable keys, printable plates, or a simple printable book. We will illustrate the process of making a guide and show some  of the guides that have been made.

Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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