Citizen Scientist program helping NB researchers learn more about spruce budworm

A volunteer program created by Natural Resources Canada (NRC) is making it possible for New Brunswick researchers to better track the spruce budworm.

In an effort to monitor the highly invasive insect, researchers have enlisted the help of more than 400 volunteers throughout the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario and the northeastern United States.

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READ MORE: NB Scientists staying ahead of invasive insect with devastating potential

“Monitoring spruce budworm is the baseline for any kind of management,” explained Rob Johns, forest insect ecologist with NRC. “The first line of that monitoring program is the citizen scientist.”

The volunteers are given a green trap to hang in a tree on their property and are asked to monitor it several times weekly.

Spreading the traps out over a large area and reviewing samples gives them an idea of where populations are growing or lowering.

“We get ideas of when they actually come there and can make some inferences of whether these are coming from different places,” Johns explained. “Or whether these are just local moths that might be indicative of something going on in that area.”

Program coordinator and Natural Resources Canada biologist, Emily Owens says the program runs throughout the summer and provides her department with the ability to research the spruce budworm in the winter months, ahead of the next season.

“They get the trap in early June and they actually set it up in their back yard on a spruce or fir tree,” Owens said. “And so if they catch any moths they put them in their freezer and send them back to the lab in September.”

“We spend all winter IDing them and we count them and we use that information to identify areas where there may be potential migrants or small populations popping up,” explained Owens.

Researchers say the program, now in its second year, is already paying off and will be even more valuable to their work going forward.

“In the future years what we’re going to do is use this as a way to tell where small hot spots, small populations might pop up and we’ll monitor very closely those areas,” Owens said.

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