NatureWatch wants you
Do you like to explore and examine the natural world? Want to be a citizen scientist? Are you interested in joining researchers and nature enthusiasts from across Canada in tracking rapid changes in our natural environment?
NatureWatch is your home page for fun, easy-to-use environmental monitoring programs that encourage you to learn about the environment while gathering the information that scientists need to monitor and protect it. NatureWatch monitoring program are suitable for all levels and interests, designed to develop your scientific observation and data collection skills so that you can actively contribute to scientific understanding of Canada’s environment.
Information you submit to our NatureWatch programs is pooled with information submitted by other participants across Canada, and is used by researchers at several Canadian universities to improve scientific knowledge of changes in Canada’s biodiversity, climate, and the natural environment. Being a NatureWatcher costs nothing, and is a great activity for children, adults, families, groups, and clubs. You choose the places where you go to enjoy nature – your backyard, a neighbourhood park, or a favourite forest, field or pond – and use the NatureWatch website on your smartphone to record the frogs, flowers, worms, or ice conditions you observe there.
Right now, NatureWatch hosts the following nature monitoring programs, with more to come in the future:
- FrogWatch: Learn about Canada’s favourite amphibians while helping researchers and zoos monitor the health of frogs population and frog habitat.
- Ice Watch: Do you live near a pond, lake, or river that freezes over each winter? The dates when ice appears and disappears provide important information about patterns in Canada’s climate. Join our network of citizen scientists who have been tracking changes in winter ice conditions over many years.
- PlantWatch: The blooming times of Canada’s most easily-recognized plant species help scientists to track changing climate trends and their impacts. If you love to garden or have an eye for flowers, please help PlantWatch and its network of volunteer provincial coordinators monitor Canada’s changing natural environment.
- WormWatch: Worms might gross some people out, but at WormWatch, we think worms provide an exciting way to teach kids about the importance of soil and the organisms that live in it. And the kids agree with us. If you’re a teacher, guide or scout leader, or someone with a bunch of kids to amuse on a sunny afternoon, get out your shovel and your smartphone and give WormWatch a try.
The first-generation NatureWatch website was launched in 2000 as a partnership between Environment Canada, the environmental NGO Nature Canada, and several other organizations, with the aim of getting the Canadian public to help researchers track changes in the natural environment. Using online maps and simple data-entry forms, users were encouraged to record their observations about flowering plants, frogs and ice. The PlantWatch, FrogWatch and IceWatch programs hosted at the NatureWatch website were developed in the mid-1990s, with the WormWatch module coming online a few years later.
Data collected through NatureWatch has been used in numerous scientific reports and studies over the years. The PlantWatch module, which got its start at the University of Alberta in 1995, has generated multiple articles in scientific journals describing changing climatic conditions in Canada (see Beaubien and Hamann (2011) for a review). The FrogWatch module has been an important complement to provincial initiatives across Canada that monitor the health of amphibian populations, many of which are under threat. The Toronto Zoo has been an important resource for keeping the FrogWatch module up to date. IceWatch data formed part of a 2008 Environment Canada report showing that the ice-free season on many Canadian water bodies started growing longer in the 1970s, an important indicator of the rate of climate change in Canada. Throughout its history, data collected through NatureWatch has been freely available to researchers, governments, and participants, and will continue to be in the future.
In 2011, responsibility for NatureWatch was transferred from Environment Canada to the Department of Geography at the University of Ottawa. Nature Canada remained a lead partner in NatureWatch, and was subsequently joined by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Department of Geography at Wilfrid Laurier University. The new NatureWatch partnership obtained funding in 2012 from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to overhaul and update the aging NatureWatch website. A new NatureWatch website was developed by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for e-learning and launched in the fall of 2014. The new website is fully compatible with all mobile devices and features enhanced tools for identifying species and mapping user observations. Input from provincial PlantWatch coordinators, the Toronto Zoo’s X, and Waterloo-based learning software firm Desire2Learn was essential in getting what we now call NatureWatch 2.0 off the ground.